by: Jim Bradley Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - As a coal ash issue continues to play out, the city of Charlotte is finding itself right in the middle because the city's drinking water supply sits on the edge of two huge coal ash ponds on Mountain Island Lake.
As hundreds of jets fly in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, it's the land beyond the runways that's getting the city's attention.
Duke Energy is asking the city to consider allowing it to bury millions of tons of coal ash from its storage ponds near Mountain Island Lake into lined landfills on airport property beneath future runway expansions or other developments.
“We think this project would be environmentally, scientifically, technically and physically sound,” said Dave Mitchell, with Duke Energy.
Duke made its case to City Council members late Monday in a special presentation, as did Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins, who said he could support the airport plan with some big “ifs.”
“I think it's viable for this to be a possibility, but it's got to be done the right way. There's a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this,” Perkins said.
As Duke woos city support, it remains under scrutiny for its part in the massive coal ash spill into the Dan River. In Charlotte, Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday finding a long-term solution for disposing of coal ash is critical. He's open to using Charlotte's airport.
“If not there, where? And that's the biggest problem with the coal ash issue is finding a place to move it. And at what cost?” McCrory said.
For Charlotte leaders, there's a much more simple concern: Will any liner used in burying coal ash at the airport actually keep its toxins contained?
“I think we want to see it, we want to touch it, we want to feel it and understand just what it’s about and what kind of assurances we can have,” said John Autry, with Charlotte City Council.
While the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation said it may support the idea of burying coal ash at the airport, other environmental groups have been critical, saying the liners leak.
Duke brought along a company Monday that told City Council the technology is safe.
Council members have asked lots of questions and are giving Duke 60 days to answer them.
Coal ash at Asheville airport could be example for Charlotte
Every few minutes, a dump truck full of ash roars into the Asheville Regional Airport.
Duke Energy has been moving the toxic material for years from a nearby coal burning power plant.
French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson said the initial phase of the project has already contaminated the French Broad River.
“It was done very poorly, on a ravine above a community with a drinking water well. When it rained, that ash all washed into the stream,” Carson said.
The Hidden Creek Neighborhood has the well Carson is talking about.
One resident didn't want to be on camera but agreed to speak with me.
“There is (a) chance it will get into our water. And it causes our yard to flood and they won't do anything about it,” the resident said.
Charah, the company doing the work that Duke Energy wants to use in Charlotte, said it's safe and will protect the environment and public health.
Carson admits the second phase of the coal ash burial is much safer. He describes it as the ash being wrapped up like a burrito.
“I think it’s a thousand times better than what you have at the power plant, which is an unlined hole in the ground leaking toxic metals into our river,” he said.
He'll continue to monitor the project and local water. However, the Hidden Creek neighbor has a warning for the Queen City.
She said she does not think Charlotte should allow this at the airport.
“Because that cannot be good for you,” she said.
Duke Energy is offering a tour of the Asheville airport dump site Tuesday. Channel 9 will be there with an up-close look at how Duke says it's safely storing the coal ash.