by: Jim Bradley Updated:
CHARLOTTE - Charlotte City Council members are being asked to consider a land swap with Duke Energy that could allow 4.7 million tons of coal ash to be buried near the airport.
Duke Energy originally asked Charlotte leaders if they would be willing to use coal ash as structural filler underneath future runways.
ARTICLE: Charlotte leaders question Duke over airport coal ash plan
The city confirmed Wednesday it isn't willing to do that, saying it was too risky on airport property.
However, Assistant City Manager Hyong Yi offered a substitute proposal.
He outlined a plan to swap land with Duke Energy.
Under the proposal, the city would get 40 acres along Wilkinson Boulevard adjacent to the airport where Duke Energy currently operates a 250-employee operations center.
In exchange, the city would give Duke 100 acres just beyond the airport's runways near Wilkinson Boulevard and Interstate 485.
The city is proposing that Duke Energy could then proceed with plans for a lined landfill to store coal ash.
Channel 9 talked with some residents who live near the proposed area.
“Are we going to get stuck with the bill one day because something went wrong with what they created,” said Ralph Sutton, who owns and lives at a mobile home park on Wilkinson Blvd.
Sutton also talked with Channel 9 about any environmental concerns.
“Officials said there wouldn’t be any,” said Sutton. “I was happy to hear that. I hope it’s all true.”
Channel 9 talked with Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins about the proposal. He called it a win-win situation.
“This move will make sure Duke Energy is responsible for its coal ash,” Perkins said. “There will be no question who is responsible should something go wrong. But, this location is much better for the environment because if there were to be another spill it would go onto land and not into water.”
Duke Energy officials said they're just now beginning to study the idea.
"It is something that we want to consider," said Duke District Manager Tim Guase. "It is important for us to study all of the aspects of this proposal."
Duke Energy is under pressure to come up with a plan for dealing with coal ash after a catastrophic leak caused millions of tons of toxic ash to spew into the Dan River near Eden last spring.
Gov. Pat McCrory sent letters to Duke Energy Wednesday giving Duke until November to release details of a plan to remove coal ash from ponds near Mountain Island Lake and other coal ash facilities around the state.
The city of Charlotte also has a vested interest in pursuing the land swap.
For years it coveted the 40 acres where Duke has its operations center.
Asked how much he wants that parcel, Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said on a scale of 1 to 10 he would rate it as a 9.
But the swap idea is also drawing criticism.
City Councilman David Howard says he's leery of putting controversial coal ash anywhere near the city's most valuable asset.
"I'd need to hear a lot more about it but I have a huge amount of concern about anything that would add some unpredictability around the airport."
City leaders and Duke Energy said they'll continue to study the land swap proposal.
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