by: Jim Bradley Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Three months after a major coal ash spill made negative national headlines for Duke Energy, environmental groups are planning a major protest for the company's shareholders meeting next week.
"I think a lot of people across North Carolina and across Duke's entire service territory are paying a lot of attention to the company right now," said Monica Embrey, a local spokeswoman for Greenpeace. "There are dozens of groups that are currently engages in organizing a shareholder protest for the morning of May 1."
Several smaller protests have taken place outside Duke's uptown headquarters. This time protesters are hoping to draw hundreds to the old Duke headquarters building on South Church Street where the shareholders meeting will take place.
Environmental groups are hoping to capitalize on publicity surrounding Duke's coal ash spill into the Dan River in February. Millions of gallons of toxic coal ash slurry flowed into the river after a pipe broke beneath a storage pond. In the aftermath Duke has been criticized for the safety of other coal ash ponds around the state including several in the Charlotte area.
As protesters make plans, police are watching closely.
"There are a lot of variables at play," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Maj. Jeff Estes. He said he's not sure yet how big the protest might be but will be ready for crowds and potential impacts on uptown workers and traffic. "A lot of times we have to take it as it develops and then, of course, we have to decide whether or not the crowds are large enough" to close lanes of traffic.
Police haven't yet made a recommendation to the city manager about whether to declare the shareholders meeting an "extraordinary event." That designation allows police to restrict the use of backpacks and other items during the event.
Embrey said regardless, the national attention being given to Duke's coal ash spill offers a unique opportunity.
"No matter what we're going to make sure Duke executives are hearing the voices of their customers,” she said.