Community concerned over North Carolina energy provider's plan to store coal ash in new landfill

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Duke Energy’s latest plan to store coal ash in a new Buncombe County landfill brought people out to Biltmore Park Club House. Duke says the new coal ash landfill would have no chance of leaking, but many are skeptical.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS ) — Duke Energy’s latest plan to store coal ash in a new Buncombe County landfill brought people out to Biltmore Park Club House on Saturday.

The utility’s requesting a permit to place more than a million tons of coal ash at Duke’s Lake Julian power plant.

Duke says the new coal ash landfill would have no chance of leaking, but many are skeptical.

Created about two weeks ago, an online petition against the plan has grown past 2,000 signatures.

A nearly three-hour meeting took place on Jan. 4, 2020, filled with about 150 people, where both sides of the argument were heard. Some spoke up in support of the landfill, saying it’s the safest and most ethical option available.

But the majority was against, raising two questions that were repeated throughout the meeting:

Can the coal ash be safely moved to another location? And if it does stay local, what happens if the landfill leaks? “The best outcome, I think, is to not have the coal ash here,” one member at the meeting said.

“Why don’t we just have all the politicians step aside,” another member suggested. “Well, some of them are talking about valuable things.”

About 10 million tons of coal ash has been produced at Duke Energy in Asheville since the start of production in the mid-60’s. Since 2008, most of the ash has been moved to the Asheville Regional Airport as part of the runway project or trucked to a site in Georgia.

Duke Energy District Manager, Jason Walls said those are no longer available options.

“We have 1.14 million tons of ash sitting at the plant today,” Walls said.

Duke recently submitted a permit to secure the remaining coal ash at the Lake Julian power plant.

That’s something many locals at the meeting made clear they don’t want to see.

“We don’t want it in our back yard,” one local said. “This is too much of a populated area.”

If the permit’s approved, the ash would be placed in a double-lined landfill, which technology scientists say could last around 100 years.

“This is a safe solution, it’s hard to say that out loud,” Walls said.

“The fact that it’s an ultimatum that this is not going to leak, I don’t think that makes me feel secure, nor most of the people in the room because the expectation is that it is going to leak,” one member said.

“What happens then, when it starts getting out there?” one member posed the question at the meeting. “It’s too late, that’s when the horse is out of the barn.”

“If that happens, that’s one of those violations in which Duke Energy would be forced to perform whatever corrective actions are needed in order to remedy that situation,” Walls assured.

The public has until Jan. 10, 2020 to submit comments to the State Department of Environmental Quality.

Written comments on the solid waste permit may be submitted to: Ed Mussler, N.C. Division of Waste Management, Solid Waste Section, 1646 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1646 or by email to publiccomments@ncdenr.gov.

The department will then decide whether to approve or deny the landfill permit.

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