People in Chatham County, as in neighboring Lee County, are furious over Duke Energy's plans to dump 3 million tons of potentially toxic coal ash in the counties in the next two years, as evidenced by the hundreds of residents who slammed the company's proposal in state public hearings held last week by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
"Duke Energy can't fix their problem by creating two new problems," said Donna Strickland, a Lee County resident who spoke last week in Pittsboro.
Through its contractor, Kentucky-based Charah Inc., the energy giant is seeking permits from state regulators to store the ash in abandoned brick mines outside of Sanford and Moncure, a small town 10 miles southeast of Pittsboro.
DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said Monday that the agency expects to decide on those permits by July, although the proposal will also need approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It's unclear how long federal permission could take.
It's the first phase of Duke's plan to dispose of roughly 100 million tons of ash, which contains carcinogens such as arsenic and cadmium, over the next 15 years. The company is looking for somewhere to bury coal ash after spilling an estimated 39,000 tons of it in the Dan River last February.
In large quantities, the ash is a potentially deadly pollutant, although company officials say neighboring property and groundwater will be buffered by protective landfill liners and layers of naturally impervious clay.
"These projects are important and they will be done safely," said Jeff Brooks, Duke Energy spokesman. "Certainly our focus through this project is the environment."
The energy company says the Sanford and Moncure projects will create about 100 jobs and make the abandoned brick mines fit for potential commercial uses again, although most residents say they are more concerned with the environment.
"It's like putting a Band-Aid on a staph infection," said Dawn Crowley, a Sanford resident. "It's like leaving a trail of pus across the state."
Gary Simpson, of Chatham County, complained Duke is exposing locals to risk yet protecting the company chiefly by contracting the dumping to a "nebulous" corporation named Green Meadow LLC.
As the INDY reported in December, the relatively unknown Green Meadow, which officially formed in North Carolina last May, shares its leadership with contractor Charah Inc. If the dumping is approved, Green Meadow, a group with unknown assets, would likely be taking on legal liability for the controversial project for Duke Energy.
"If the largest corporate entity in energy won't play fair, what do you do?" said Simpson.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Chatham residents slam Duke Energy"