CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There is a new idea on the table that could solve the question of where Duke Energy is going to put millions of tons of coal ash from the company's now-shuttered Riverbend Plant at Mountain Island Lake.

The new idea again involves Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and a land swap.

Assistant City Manager Hyong Yi proposed the idea Wednesday to members of the City Council Environment Committee.

Yi said the idea would be for the airport to swap land it owns, bordered by Wilkinson Boulevard and I-485 with Duke, which would give the city property at the airport where the company's operations center is now located.

Duke could then move 4 million tons of coal ash from ash ponds next to Mountain Island Lake to the Wilkinson Boulevard location where it would be buried in a sealed and lined landfill.

The end result would be having the coal ash near the airport but not under any runways. That's an idea that has already been rejected by interim Airport Director Brent Cagle.

Cagle says he favors the land swap idea.

"This would give us the opportunity to acquire a piece of property that has a higher utility value to the airport than the proposed swap location does," said Cagle.

Council member David Howard says he has concerns about the land swap.

"I don't want to do anything that would jeopardize operations at the airport. Nothing. I almost want to draw a protection zone around it for about two miles and say, 'don't touch,' because it is just that important to our economy," he said.

A Duke Energy spokesperson, Scott Sutton, said the company is still studying the idea and he said there are several serious considerations.

"First and foremost, what does it mean for our customers? What does it mean for Duke Energy Operations, and ultimately how does this fit into our overall comprehensive plan for ash management?" he said.

The committee did not make a formal recommendation but asked Yi to arrange a briefing on coal ash and the swap idea for a future meeting of the full City Council.

Also Wednesday, North Carolina's environmental agency asked Duke Energy to submit plans for moving coal ash from of other waste pits.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also issued Duke a directive to increase drinking water testing at the company's ash dumps. Duke has 14 plants with 33 unlined ash pits.

It's part of an executive order Gov. Pat McCrory issued after lawmakers adjourned without agreement on a proposed plan requiring the company to dig up or cap its 33 pits. But environmental groups said the legislation would have done little to stop Duke's ash pits from leaking toxic waste into the state waterways.

The governor's order gives Duke until Nov. 15 to submit plans for excavating ash from the company's Asheville, Riverbend, Dan River and Sutton plants.

Read more about Charlotte's directive here.

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