The following editorial appeared in the July 13 edition of The Fayetteville Observer:
They live in places around North Carolina such as Salisbury, Moncure, Eden, Belews Creek and Wilmington.
They live in Lumberton, site of a shuttered power plant, a coal-ash impoundment, an adjacent canal or swamp and the scenic Lumber River. One leads to the other in this all-too-familiar setting for the state’s coal-ash conundrum.
Families who have lived and farmed around the former Duke Energy Weatherstone Plant in Robeson County worry and wonder: Is their water safe? Have they been exposed to toxic hazards from tons of nearby ash? Have their farm crops suffered? How about the fish and other wildlife in the river?
The state should do its part to tell residents what’s known, what’s not known and what their options are.
The state’s part is the lead role, or at least it should be. Our government leaders and environmental officials shouldn’t let the fears fester unnecessarily. They should step up efforts with public meetings and clear documentation to keep residents informed and as safe as possible.
That’s not to say coal-ash dangers have been hidden from the public, at least not since the Duke Energy spill along the Dan River near Eden early last year. Duke has paid a price in prestige, damage control and cleanup. Last month, it pleaded guilty to violations of the federal Clean Water Act and agreed to pay penalties of $102 million.
The nation’s largest utility has stepped up plans to excavate 20 of its 32 North Carolina waste pits. That includes the one at the Lumberton Weatherstone site.
Those cleanups will take more than a decade, though, and meanwhile the worries pile up among neighbors. Not just around the coal-ash pits, either, but also where the waste is scheduled to be hauled, to former open-pit clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties.
Since the Dan River disaster, state regulators and officials have scrambled to get a plan in place. Some would call it a businesslike approach to environmental oversight; others would call it weak and haphazard. Environmental groups have weighed in with information, advocacy and litigation.
In addition to potential environmental and public-health hazards, the state faces a mountain of a public-relations challenge here. It should stop the drip-drip of information leaks and get ahead of this issue and let residents know the truth.
Is there anyone in authority in Raleigh who’s listening?
The Fayetteville Observer