Fears of Catawba River contamination arise with coal plant teardown

by: Scott Wickersham Updated:

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MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. - There are new fears about contamination to drinking water in the Catawba River. Duke Energy will tear down the old Riverbend power plant in Mount Holly, but an environmental group is worried about how it will be done.

"It's great news, they are closing this old dirty coal-fired power plant," said Rick Gaskins, riverkeeper.

He has concerns about further contamination to the Catawba River, Charlotte's source of drinking water.

"My understanding is during the closure they will use those ash ponds to receive the waste generated during the closure process," Gaskins said.

Duke Energy denies that, and says it will drain and collect oil and chemicals and keep them in a controlled area until they're relocated off site by waste vendor.

Duke Energy's plan also calls for nine months of removing asbestos.

They said workers will hose off all the old equipment and that water will flow into the ash ponds but they expect nothing more than old fly-ash to be washed into the ponds.

Some are still concerned.

"Right now there are not national regulations guiding utilities on how to do this. It's something many utilities across the county have been fighting," said Monica Embrey with Greenpeace.

Duke argues it will adhere to the strictest safety guidelines.

They sent a letter to neighbors explaining how they will dismantle the plant and eventually turn the site back into an open field.

But removing the coal ash will take much longer.

They don't plan to even begin studying how to do that until next year. As for the plant itself, Duke starting tearing it down this fall. They expect to have it done in 2017.

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