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Coal ash is the waste that remains when coal is burned. It is usually collected in a dump, known as a pond. North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.Many see potential complications because North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory, worked for Duke Energy for 28 years.

Duke Energy Will Double Rate Of Coal Ash Removal At Dan River

coal ash
Dave DeWitt

February is a big month for Duke Energy to move coal ash out of its Dan River site.

With a new two-mile rail spur in place and machines moving material from large “ash stacks” – soil-covered mounds of coal ash - Duke Energy expects to double its current rate of progress.

“We’ve moved already more than 66,000 tons of coal ash here and expect to exponentially increase that with our rail system now in place moving forward,” says Jeff Brooks, a spokesman for Duke Energy.

About half of the three million tons of coal ash from this site will head by rail to a lined landfill in central Virginia. Much of what remains will be re-buried in a to-be-constructed lined landfill at Dan River.

Tuesday is the two-year anniversary of the Dan River coal ash spill. On that Super Bowl Sunday morning two years ago, a stormwater pipe under a coal ash basin broke, releasing 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river. That prompted state lawmakers to pass the Coal Ash Management Act in 2014.

Duke Energy says it prefers to move coal ash via rail because that method carries more, and because it’s safer.

“When it’s transported on the rail cars it is completely lined in the rail car here at Dan River and covered, so that that material cannot leave,” says Brooks. “And it’s separated from moisture while it’s being transported.”

Environmental groups – like the Southern Environmental Law Center and various Riverkeepers – have long sought to have the utility company move ash away from rivers and into lined landfills to protect groundwater.

In a report released on Monday, SELC claims that coal ash moved in South Carolina led to a 99 percent reduction in arsenic groundwater contamination near coal-ash sites.  

Two converted clay mines in Lee and Chatham County will also accept ash from other Duke Energy’s North Carolina sites. Residents near those locations have fought the projects.

Duke Energy has until the end of 2019 to move the ash at its four high-risk sites across the state.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Feature News Editor. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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