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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill Town Council to proceed with coal ash clean-up proposal

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted to proceed with the updated proposal for beginning to address the clean-up of coal ash at the police station property at its meeting on Wednesday, June 12. 

The Town proposed interim remedial measures as a way to begin addressing the coal ash near Bolin Creek while other decisions are being made about the future location of the police station.

During a 2013 evaluation of properties belonging to the Town of Chapel Hill, an estimated 60,000 cubic yards of coal ash was discovered buried beneath the police station.

The property at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., where the Chapel Hill Police Station now lives, was the site of a coal ash infill in the 1960s and 70s where coal ash was added to replace moved soil. Coal ash has since eroded down the embankment near the police station, which faces the Bolin Creek Trail and Bolin Creek. The trail is separated from the ash only by a fence.

At the request of the Town, a preliminary risk evaluation was completed in May by Duncklee & Dunham, Inc., an environmental consulting company based in Cary, North Carolina. The purpose of this evaluation was to have the area surveyed and assessed by experts who then proposed steps for interim measures the Town could take to address this issue.

“The potential use of interim measures is designed to enable the Town to ensure protectiveness of the nearby community, including users of the adjacent Bolin Creek Greenway Trail, while the development, feasibility, and selection of a final remedial plan is completed,” the risk evaluation reads. 

John Richardson, community resilience officer for the Town of Chapel Hill, and David Duncklee, president and senior hydrogeologist at Duncklee & Dunham, Inc., presented the mayor and council with an update on the coal ash site evaluation and the Town’s proposed steps on June 12.

The initial steps include placing additional signage along the Bolin Creek Trail to keep trail users on the path, implementing interim remedial measures to remove  contamination closest to Bolin Creek and the trail segment that runs along the police station property and completing the Bolin Creek Trail MLK Jr. Blvd. underpass and connector.

In order to ensure the coal ash is not posing any health risks and the land is usable for recreation, the steps also include conducting periodic inspections and sampling of the soil, performing post-construction sampling, and generating reports to update human health risk assessment and ecological risk assessment. Sampling will take place every six months and after any major storm event.

Council Member Hongbin Gu said she felt it was necessary to clarify that the initial steps proposed are not a long-term or final solution to the coal ash issue.

“It’s not a conclusion for the coal ash site,” Gu said. “We haven’t done enough testing, it’s not a remediation for the whole coal ash site.”

The projected cost for this initial plan is $246,000. That cost was reflected in the Town’s recommended budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year of $115,950,757. The budget was considered and accepted unanimously by the mayor and council at the June 12 meeting, as well.

These measures are projected to last three to five years. During that time, the Town will discuss and make decisions pertaining to the long-term plan for the removal of the coal ash and the relocation of the police station.

As these initial coal ash clean-up steps begin to take place, the Town said it will communicate regularly with the Council and the community about them.


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