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Coal ash disposal site discovered near Bolin Creek sparks public discussion

Coal ash, the leftover toxins and materials from burning coal for energy, pose major environmental concerns in North Carolina — and the Southern Environmental Law Center has called on the public for help.

The League of Women Voters of Orange-Durham-Chatham Environmental Issues Team hosted a coal ash disposal discussion Saturday. At the discussion, Nick Torrey, a lawyer from the Southern Environmental Law Center, called on the public to participate in forcing the clean-up of coal ash disposal sites around the state.  

Most of the coal ash disposal sites around the state are owned by Duke Energy, the country’s largest electric power holding company. But Torrey said there is a coal ash disposal site near Bolin Creek in Chapel Hill.

The Bolin Creek coal ash disposal site was discovered in 2013 and is located behind the Chapel Hill Police Department off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Torrey said the Town of Chapel Hill has done testing on the soil and water surrounding the site since discovery, but it has done little to move forward in cleaning it up.

George Cianciolo, member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said most members of the council have not seen the data from the testing around the Bolin Creek coal ash disposal site.

“There needs to be a plan and it needs to be a data-based plan,” Cianciolo said.

Torrey described examples from South Carolina and Wisconsin, where community members and political organizations came together to force the state to clean up coal ash disposal basins.

“The public participation really made a difference,” Torrey said. “This is in your community. It’s right there. It can’t stay that way.”

In investigating cases about coal ash disposal basins in North Carolina, Torrey found that Duke Energy has been protected by the state of North Carolina in many instances.

“The state of North Carolina has actually been protecting Duke Energy from the proper disposal of coal ash,” Torrey said. “The state is actively interfering in citizen law enforcement.”

For Duke Energy to be required to excavate the coal ash basin, the state has to rate it either a high or intermediate priority, according to the Coal Ash Management Act.

“That’s the question. To excavate, or not to excavate,” Torrey said.

If Duke Energy is required to excavate, Torrey said the best solution is to move it to a synthetically lined basin with monitors to detect leaking.

Durham resident Vicki Ryder brought up the impacts on a community and the human aspect of moving large amounts of coal ash.

“I think there are tremendous dangers of moving the coal ash,” Ryder said. “We don’t seem to think about that when we think about the science.”

Torrey said the coal ash can’t stay in the leaking and unlined basins where it is now.

“There is not a perfect solution to this,” Torrey said.


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