Belmont residents affected by coal ash pond say they don't have water option

BELMONT, N.C. — The City of Belmont wrapped up a meeting with families who have been living off bottled water for more than a year.

Duke Energy has given certain families near coal ash ponds -- two options for clean water.

Those frustrated neighbors spoke out Thursday at city hall.

They said this law gives them the right to choose between a new water filter, or a connection to city water, but many say that right has been stripped away.

Larry Mathis had been waiting for a card in the mail from Duke Energy allowing him to choose between a city water connection, or a new water filter, but he said the card never came.

"So we got a hold of Duke and asked them why and they said the option was to the well owner, not the household,” Mathis said.

Aqua North Carolina owns and operates the community wells, that serve about 77 people.

Channel 9 has investigated Aqua in the past and it's been accused of having dirty, smelly water, bad customer service and high bills by neighbors in Mint Hill.

Residents said House Bill 630 is worded in a way that allows households to elect the type of water supply they want at Duke Energy's expense.

Duke Energy officials said Thursday the state already approved its plan of giving well owners the decision, but it said it's taken the issue back to the state for added clarification.

Many residents who want city water are hoping Aqua will allow them to deal directly with the city of Belmont.

Residents said Aqua could buy water from the city and resell it to them, which is something they said will cost them more money in the end.

"It's our responsibility as the well owner to evaluate these options,” Aqua said Thursday in a news release. “We will seek input from customers as Duke finalizes its proposals to us."

Full Aqua NC Statement:

“Duke Energy is required by law to provide alternative water supply or filtration options to well owners within a half-mile of its Allen Steam plant. Aqua owns three wells that supply customers within this boundary. It’s our responsibility as the well owner to evaluate these options, and we will seek input from our customers as Duke finalizes its proposals to us. We’ve been providing updates to our customers as we’ve received information, and we are committed to ensuring they know and understand the proposals before us. Our customers are our top priority, and we value them and the trust they place in us.”

Full Duke Energy Statement:

“It is not clear that HB630 intended to cover the Aqua customers because these customers are already served by a public water system subject to state and federal regulation. Our interpretation is that Aqua customers (and tenants, etc.) do not have drinking water supply wells because they are served by a water system, and DEQ has agreed to this point. Although in January DEQ gave preliminary approvals to our plans that stated that well owners would make the decision for all households connected to their well, we have taken this issue back to DEQ for added clarification. If we receive a different interpretation from the agency that directs otherwise, we’ll adjust.

Nevertheless, Duke included the Aqua in its permanent water supply planning and Aqua will decide next steps and communicate directly with its customers.

Our recommendation is to connect the Aqua system to the city of Belmont, and then Aqua could use its existing system to continue providing service to its customers. The interconnect between the Aqua system and the City of Belmont is still being evaluated by DEQ, and Aqua, as the well owner, will be making the final decision for its well to be consistent with state law.  DEQ has asked Duke to provide an engineering evaluation of adding a filtration system to the Aqua well, which is currently underway.

Duke Energy is also offering Aqua customers in the half-mile radius the financial supplement, which includes the $5,000 stipend, a property value protection plan and, in this case, 25 years’ worth of the difference between the Aqua water rate they currently pay and the new Aqua rate once the system is connected to city water. We see that as a fair and generous approach, especially since evidence continues to demonstrate that ash basins are not impacting neighbors’ well water.”

Full DEQ Statement:

“DEQ’s position is we are aware this is a contentious situation with some of the homeowners and the policy is currently under review.”

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