Printable Page Headline News   Return to Menu - Page 1 2 3 5 6 7 8 13
Gray Muck Flows into Flooded NC River  09/22 07:44

   Gray muck is flowing into the Cape Fear River from the site of a dam breach 
at a Wilmington power plant Friday where an old coal ash dump had been covered 
over by Florence's floodwaters.

   WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) -- Gray muck is flowing into the Cape Fear River from 
the site of a dam breach at a Wilmington power plant Friday where an old coal 
ash dump had been covered over by Florence's floodwaters.

   Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Friday the utility doesn't 
believe the breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station poses a significant threat 
of increased flooding to nearby communities.

   The potential environmental threat was unclear. 

   No environmental regulators were at the scene, with officials citing unsafe 

   Floodwaters breached several points early Friday in the earthen dam at 
Sutton Lake, the plant's 1,100-acre (445-hectare) reservoir. Lake water then 
flooded one of three large coal ash dumps lining the lakeshore.

   Sheehan said the company can't rule out that ash might be escaping the 
flooded dump and flowing through the lake into the river.

   The ash left over when coal is burned to generate electricity contains 
mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals. Duke said Friday the 
inundated basin at the plant contains about 400,000 cubic yards (305,820 cubic 
meters) of ash.

   The area received more than 30 inches (75 centimeters) of rain from former 
Hurricane Florence, with the Cape Fear River still rising Friday and expected 
to crest Sunday and remain at flood stage through early next week.

   Gray material the company characterized as "coal combustion byproducts" 
could be seen floating in the lake and river.

   Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group with a boat in the river, 
provided The Associated Press with images Friday showing wide gray slicks in 
the water. A team member plucked a turtle from the muck and rinsed it off.

   "Any big spill like this raises concerns about the impacts on the estuary 
ecosystem in the lower Cape Fear River," said Pete Harrison, a staff attorney 
with Earthjustice on the boat. "This is Duke's third coal ash spill in the 
aftermath of Hurricane Florence, and it looks like it's the biggest yet."

   North Carolina's top environmental regulator said the possible environmental 
harm isn't yet known. No state inspectors had arrived by late Friday, though 
officials said they would be there as soon as conditions are considered safe 
for personnel to navigate the river and be onsite.

   "What we don't know at this point is if any coal ash has filtered into the 
Cape Fear River," said Mike Regan, secretary for the state Department of 
Environmental Quality, at a news conference in Raleigh. "We plan to conduct 

   Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Trey Glenn said his 
staff was monitoring the situation at Sutton from the state Emergency 
Operations Center in Raleigh, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of the 
Sutton plant. He said dozens of EPA staff were scattered throughout the region 
impacted by Florence, checking on toxic waste sites and oil storage facilities.

   "EPA serves in a support role to the impacted states and has offered 
assistance to North Carolina to help them respond to the reported Sutton coal 
ash incident," Glenn said. "As of this evening, North Carolina has not 
requested additional support."

   With no regulators at the Sutton plant, it was left to Duke employees to 
collect water samples that would be tested in the company's in-house lab. 
Environmental groups also collected samples from the river that would be sent 
to a private lab.

   Security personnel for Duke blocked access Friday to Sutton Lake Road, 
leading to a public dock on the reservoir, a popular boating and fishing site.

   Duke denied a request for an Associated Press reporter to cross the 
barricade, saying the lake situation "continues to change" and is "not safe."

   Sutton Lake is the former cooling pond for a coal-fired plant Duke retired 
in 2013 and replaced with a new generating station running off natural gas. 
Duke said that power plant was shut down overnight and all employees safely 

   The breach at the Wilmington site is separate from last weekend's reported 
rupture at a nearby coal ash landfill, which spilled enough material to fill 
180 dump trucks.

   Duke's ash waste management has faced intense scrutiny since a drainage pipe 
collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a 
massive spill that coated miles (kilometers) of the Dan River in gray sludge. 
The utility later agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and 
pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution 
from ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. It plans to close all its 
ash dumps by 2029.

   At the separate Duke plant near Goldsboro, three old coal-ash dumps capped 
with soil and trees were underwater Thursday after the Neuse River flooded.

   Staff from the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance visited the flooded 
dumps at the H.F. Lee Power Plant by boat Wednesday, took photographs and 
collected samples of gray sludge washing into the floodwaters.

   State environmental regulators visited the site Thursday, but said they were 
unable to make a full assessment because of high water levels. The Duke 
spokeswoman Sheehan said any coal ash release at the Goldsboro site appeared 

   Meanwhile, South Carolina's state-owned utility said it expected floodwaters 
to enter a coal ash pond at one of its closed power plants. Santee Cooper 
spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the overtopping of an ash basin at the Granger 
plant near Conway should not be environmentally significant.

   Gore said nearly all the ash has been removed from the basin and water 
pumped in to prevent the dike from breaking. The company had placed a 2 -foot 
(72-centimeter) high inflatable berm around the top of a second pond that has 
more coal ash in it. She estimates 200,000 tons (181 million kilograms) of ash 
are in a corner of the pond furthest from the rising Waccamaw River.


Copyright DTN. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.
Powered By DTN