CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A neighbor of Duke Energy’s massive Cliffside coal-fired power plant on the Cleveland-Rutherford county line is raising new concerns about water flowing out of coal ash ponds into the Broad River.
Guy Hutchins is the operator of the Rivermist Resort, a series of cabins on the serene Broad River. Hutchins says water gushed from monitoring wells at the foot of the earthen dam holding back the coal ash.
Hutchins also says neighbors were unaware of a 5 million gallon spill from the Cliffside steam station in October 2005, which was reported in the fine print of legal advertisements in local newspapers but largely unnoticed.
This week state regulators at NCDENR, the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, cited Cliffside and four other Duke Energy coal plants for storm water releases. Inspectors visited Cliffside Tuesday looking into a slow leak from a pipe at Cliffside, but they insist that water is not reaching the Broad River.
“I would like to see it gone,” Hutchins says of the coal ash lagoon. “Just clean it up.”
Hutchins says he witnessed Duke drill monitoring wells near the banks of the Broad River.
“Water just came gushing out,” he said. “It blew mud and everything out there.”
Hutchins says Duke installed a PVC pipe on his neighbor’s land leading to the Broad River which would drain water from the monitoring wells if they ever overflowed again.
The state of North Carolina’s environmental regulators have always been charged with monitoring pollution from the stacks at coal fired plants and runoff into groundwater and surface waters, but NCDENR has paid a lot more attention to the coal ash ponds after a spill of tens of thousands of tons of coal ash on the Dan River starting Feb. 2 and continuing for five days.
Records obtained by the I-Team show Cliffside spilled 5 million gallons into the Broad River in October 2005 from a broken pipe. A broken corrugated metal pipe buried dozens of feet under the floor of the coal ash lagoons triggered the Dan River spill.
But Hutchins said neighbors were never alerted to the Cliffside overflow. “I wish they had,” he said.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said that Hutchins’ concerns should be addressed by new inspections by the utility and NCDENR after the Dan River spill.
During a tour of Cliffside prior to rate hike hearings in front of the North Carolina Utilities Commission last year, Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert praised Cliffside as “state of the art” for coal fired plants saying:
“Coal plants have some byproducts like ash and a few air emissions that do not get controlled by the very advanced technology we have here but rest assured that Cliffside Six has the most advanced package of emission controls that are available today.”
Duke’s newest coal plants use dry ash storage in lined landfills while older steam stations are plagued with unlined coal ash lagoons, which seep into groundwater and lakes and streams.
Duke has said it will consult with hydrologists and other scientists before closing the coal ash basins.
“I hope they come up with something quickly,” Hutchins said.