HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Colonial Pipeline is seeking a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater discharge permit, and the public was invited to view and comment on the draft permit Thursday evening in Huntersville.
The permit would allow polluted groundwater to be treated in Huntersville and discharged into North Prong Clark Creek in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River basin.
The permit directly relates to the Department's Division of Waste Management's requirement for fuel recovery and groundwater remediation efforts resulting from Colonial Pipeline's August 2020 fuel release in the Oehler Nature Preserve.
The pipeline spill in Huntersville was the largest in North Carolina history, releasing more than two million gallons of gasoline into the preserve.
Colonial Pipeline was fined $5 million and is forced to clean the mess.
Two and a half years later, the nature preserve is still closed as crews extract contaminated groundwater from the site and haul it to a treatment facility in Asheboro.
To speed up the process, Colonial Pipeline is applying for a state permit to treat the water onsite and then pump it into the North Prong Clark Creek.
Meg Blackwood, director of right of way, land management and public affairs at Colonial Pipeline, released comments from the public hearing.
Blackwood reiterated that the NPDES permit will allow Colonial Pipeline to operate the "hydraulic control well system" that will escalate the "recovery efforts and limit further migration of the product underground."
Additionally, Blackwood argued that Colonial's proposal allows the company "to safely and efficiently manage the water, in the most environmentally responsible manner with the least impact" on surrounding neighbors.
Onsite, Colonial is also proposing compact treatment, limiting the treatment system to Colonial's property and limiting "visual and noise impacts."
Onsite treatment makes the most sense for this large of a spill, according to Edgar Miller, director of the Yadkin Riverkeeper. However, he said he worries the permit allows for too many chemicals to be discharged into the creek, which feeds into the Rocky River.
“When you look at a cancer-causing substance like benzene, that is a primary component of gasoline, and one of the contaminants of concern in this case," Miller explained. "The draft permit, the last version that I saw and understood, allowed that to be discharged at five times the water quality standard.”
The NC Department of Environmental Quality told WCNC Charlotte that the standards it set in Colonial Pipeline's application will protect “aquatic life and human health.”
Miller said the department's reasoning for the allowed benzene levels is likely due to the chemical diluting in the water once it reaches larger waterways, which he disagrees with.
"Dilution is not the solution to pollution,” Miller said.
Many at the public forum highlighted the dangers of benzene and it's link to cancer.
During the meeting there was pushback about why there was no question and answer portion. Many told WCNC Charlotte they walked away with more questions following the proposal.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner At-Large Leigh Altman said it was disappointing.
“You’ve presented the proposal, but it would have been helpful to see a presentation about the ways to do and why this one is the best," Altman said.
Written comments will also be accepted via email or mail through March 17, 2020. Find more information about where to send comments here.
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