9 Investigates: Coal ash site exposed near Lake Norman High School

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Channel 9 learned there’s 40,000 tons of coal ash on a Mooresville property about 50 yards from Lake Norman High School.

It’s been sitting quietly underground at the site off of Doolie Road since 2001, but the state told Channel 9 the toxic ash has recently been disrupted by construction.

[ALSO READ: Rains from Florence cause collapse at North Carolina coal ash landfill]

A picture from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality shows a small stream of coal ash at the surface of a new apartment development on the corner of Doolie Road and River Highway.

NCDEQ said a recent incident exposed coal ash at the site. Officials said the disruption was caused by construction.

Residents Channel 9 spoke with had no idea the coal ash has been there for years.

“I have no idea where the coal ash came from,” neighbor Sabrina Heusen said. “I had no idea I was living so close to it."

[ALSO READ: Duke says its data show no harm from flooded coal ash dump]

Paige Sheehan, a Duke Energy spokesperson, told Channel 9 Duke sold the 40,000 tons of coal ash to the former property owner, Race Park USA, in 2001.

"The fill was constructed following agreements with the property owner and the appropriate state permits which were designed to ensure the environment remains well-protected," Sheehan said. "The property owner assumed all responsibility for maintenance of the fill and ownership of the material."

According to NCDEQ, the land was recently purchased by Triangle Real Estate. The developer is building a large apartment complex on the structural ash fill.

A project manager at the construction site would not talk to Channel 9 on camera. He said the company built a basin on the construction site, to collect coal ash runoff.

NCDEQ confirmed a basin is being used on the site, but said the basin is used for collecting debris; not coal ash. However, officials added, minor amounts of coal ash may have been transported to "a downstream pond."

Triangle Real Estate had not returned Channel 9's calls as of the time this story aired.

NCDEQ spokesperson Bridge Munger said via email that inspectors have visited the construction site multiple times since September.

"Prior to Hurricane Florence, NCDEQ conducted a site inspection," Munger said. "NCDEQ observed several areas along the construction road where coal ash material was exposed due to erosion."

Munger said developers removed trees and vegetation that loosened soil on the site, and made the underground ash vulnerable to erosion.

"Department staff also met with the Iredell County Erosion and Sediment Control inspector and contractor to discuss the site's erosion and sediment control plan and steps necessary to re-encapsulate the coal ash material in the sediment basin," Munger added.

NCDEQ inspectors are currently working to schedule a meeting with the property owner and other stakeholder to discuss necessary actions to keep the community safe, Munger said.

Channel 9 reached out to Iredell-Statesville Schools, to find out if it had been made aware of the coal ash exposure next to Lake Norman High School.

"I have spoken with our Asst. Superintendent of Operations as well as our Safety and Compliance Officer for the district, and LNHS Principal Keith Gentle," Boen Nutting, director of communications for the school system, told Channel 9 in an email. "None have any knowledge of this."

North Carolina has permitted structural ash fill sites since the 1980s and 1990s, according to a DEQ spokesperson.

There are countless coal ash fills across the state. NCDEQ regulates the structural fill sites, and has a map of the toxic waste locations on its website.

Channel 9 found 26 other coal ash sites across the Charlotte area.

NCDEQ records show one is under a car dealership in Huntersville, some are in busy business districts four  miles from Lake Norman and other sites sit undeveloped in Mooresville.

Officials said they conduct inspections before there’s a problem, but it involves a lot of research.

It requires going through property records to locate the exact site and the owner, which can sometimes take a few weeks. That’s before the onsite inspection, enforcement and re-inspections, if necessary.

You can learn more about coal ash fills and state regulations of the sites at this link. 

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