Dam breach at Duke plant in Wilmington; coal ash could spill — APNewsBreak

24 September, 2018, 14:41 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • The flooding Cape Fear River has surrounded the gas-fired Sutton plant near Wilmington and overrun a former cooling lake on the site

CHARLOTTE, N.C., September 19, 2018 /PRNewswire/ - Water samples collected from various locations demonstrate that coal ash released from a landfill under construction has not impacted water quality in Sutton Lake in Wilmington, N.C.

The potential environmental threat was unclear.

State environmental regulators went to the site Thursday, though they were unable to make a full assessment because of high water levels.

"Initial water tests from Duke Energy's L.V. Sutton Plant in Wilmington confirm that discharges from the cooling lake to the Cape Fear River are not harming water quality downstream", the company said.

The Department of Environmental Quality said Friday that the dam that separates Sutton Lake and the Cape Fear River was overflowing in numerous places, the biggest breach measuring between 100 feet and 200 feet across.

Duke Energy Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) is one of the largest energy holding companies in the USA, with approximately 29,000 employees and a generating capacity of 49,500 megawatts. Duke said Friday that the inundated basin at the plant contains about 400,000 cubic yards (305,820 cubic meters) of ash.

The site received more than 30 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence, with the Cape Fear River expected to crest Saturday. Cenospheres are lightweight, hollow beads comprised of alumina and silica that are a byproduct of coal combustion.

Duke was excavating the two coal ash pits at the Sutton plant in accordance with a 2016 legal settlement with various environmental groups that had sued the company. A team member plucked a turtle from the muck and rinsed it off.

"DEQ is waiting for travel conditions to improve. before we can safely inspect the damage reported by farmers to the hog lagoons", said Megan Thorpe, spokeswoman for the state environmental agency.

An old coal ash basin at the Sutton plant has been inundated by water from Sutton Lake. Duke says coal ash is being held back behind a steel wall
View Slideshow

"While the state is now in emergency response mode, a thorough investigation of events will soon follow to ensure that Duke Energy is held responsible for any environmental impacts by their coal ash facilities". "We plan to conduct flyovers".

"People should stay out of contact with the water", Mr. Burdette said. "As of this evening, North Carolina has not requested additional support". That water, which could contain some ash, would flow out into the Cape Fear River.

The earthen berm was built in 1972 to create Sutton Lake, a reservoir that supplies cooling water to the Sutton power plant. Environmental groups also collected samples from the river that would be sent to a private lab. South of the city, Duke Energy's Brunswick nuclear power plant was shut down as the storm approached.

A landfill that was under construction at the site, which was meant to hold coal ash lined terraces, ruptured over the weekend, spilling enough material to fill 180 dump trucks, according to the Associated Press.

Coal ash entered the public consciousness in 2014, when a Duke pit failed and released 39,000 tons of ash into the Dan River. 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. In that facility, the ash is settled at the bottom and covered by water.

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. Aerial photos released by the company showed a wide breach in the earthen dam and the affected ash dump largely underwater.

Sheehan, the Duke spokeswoman, said that any release of coal ash at the site appeared "minimal".

Gore said almost all the ash has been removed from the basin and water pumped in to prevent the dike from breaking.

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