Duke Energy to excavate coal ash at Belmont steam station, residents skeptical


BELMONT, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)- Coal ash is used as filling material and is often free, but that has brought up health concerns in many communities. 

Tons of toxic coal ash was spilled into the Dan River in 2014. Duke Energy settled with the state for more than $1 billion for the issue. 

The spill caused environmentalists to take a closer look at all coal facilities. They worked to determine which ones needed to shut down and what basins needed to get capped. 

Now, as part of a settlement, Duke Energy is going to excavate coal ash from the basins that were built beneath the water table at the Allen Steam Station in Belmont and put it in an above-ground landfill. Tuesday night, the public is getting a closer look at just how they’re going to do that.  

“Them coal ash ponds, Lord have mercy! They were just a big blight on humanity,” Darrell Withers said.  

Withers says he grew up never knowing the pollutants in coal ash. 

“We went out there and played on it. Never thought a thing,” he said.  

But after one of the worst coal ash spills in U.S. history, legislators ordered Duke Energy to close all 32 coal ash pits in North and South Carolina. It’s a way to end the practice of storing the ash in open, unlined pits. 

“It’s kind of what we were advocating for in some ways,” Abel Russ told FOX 46. 

Russ is an attorney with Environmental Integrity Project and published research on the groundwater monitoring at coal plants across the country. In 2019, he determined Duke Energy’s Allen Steam Station in Belmont was the second most contaminated site in the country.  

“That’s based on very high levels of cobalt and lithium and other pollutants in some of the wells at Allen,” Russ said.  

And now, the Department of Environmental Quality, Duke and other community environmental groups have settled on creating on-site landfills for the coal ash.  

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“I think the coal ash needs to be dealt with and encapsulated just for the possibility of contamination to the river.”  

That’ll amount to 2.3 million cubic yards of coal ash at this facility and 80 million tons total at seven facilities across the state. 

People who live in that area are still going to have a whole lot of coal ash in their backyards, but it’s going to be dry and it’s going to be a less threat to groundwater. 

The DEQ tells FOX 46 it’s the best action to protect public health and the environment, but not all area residents are confident in the decision. 

“They’ll take shortcuts. Any shortcut to save money, they’ll take it,” said Withers. 

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