CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Channel 9 investigated Duke Energy's plan to remove coal ash from an old power plant on Mountain Island Lake in Mount Holly.
The plan is to use trucks and eventually trains to haul tons of coal ash to clay mines near Sanford, North Carolina.
Like ants, dump trucks stream from the Duke power plant near Asheville, each weighed down with tons of coal ash, the leftovers of coal that was burned to create energy. The trucks drive on back roads for a few miles and dump their loads at the Asheville, airport where it’s being used as filler to create more flat land.
Read our past stories:
- EPA sets first national standard for coal waste
- Duke to repair leaky pipe at coal ash dump at Lake Norman
- Future of coal ash use could be determined next week
- DENR details steps taken to address coal-ash plants
- Environmentalists: Coal ash compromise is weak
- CLICK HERE to read more of our past coverage.
Bruce McDonald lives next door, where the sounds of nature around his mountain home are often smothered by the roar of truck engines.
“They tear the roads up constantly," McDonald said. “From 7 in the morning until dark. Where the big trucks turn in and out, they knock the sides of the blacktop road out.”
Channel 9 saw the damage at the plant entrance. Down the road, the pavement is buckled where the trucks turn to head toward the airport.
Paul Dermid said it’s a constant stream of trucks.
“Once every two minutes, maybe three. It’s like you live at a truck stop,” Dermid said.
Dermid said ash from the trucks has turned the road gray. He said that on dry days, the ash dust is so bad, you can see it in the air. Experts said the ash can contain toxic heavy metals.
WATCH: Coal ash at Asheville airport could be example for Charlotte
Dermid is concerned about his health just while cutting his grass.
“You have to wear a mask. The whole side of the road, along the edge, it's dust,” Dermid said.
Against the urging of many environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled in December that coal ash isn't a hazardous material and can be handled similar to household waste.
Charah, the company that Duke Energy hired to move the ash, sent Channel 9 a statement saying that the trucks "are fully tarped" and the ash "maintains a specified moisture content to control dusting."
Also, the statement said, the "trucks are washed each time prior to entering public roadways from the airport and power plant site.”
As for the road damage, Duke officials said they are in discussions with the Department of Transportation about what the utility can do to help repair them.
What can be expected in Charlotte?
The road leading from the Riverbend Plant on Mountain Island Lake, Horseshoe Bend Beach Road, is used by thousands of lakefront homeowners.
The rigs will be turning into the heavily traveled Brookshire Boulevard heading to Interstate 485. Despite using trains at the location, Duke Energy still predicts that a peak level of 140 trucks a day will rumble through here.
Dermid has a warning.
“Get ready! It’s like a truck stop. There will be trucks going by from early in the morning to late in the evening,” he said.
Residents near clay mines express concerns over coal ash
Channel 9 traveled to two North Carolina towns to visit old clay mines where Duke Energy wants to dump coal ash. People who live near the mines that Duke plans to start using are dreading what's ahead
Just outside of Sanford, a small, quiet town in eastern North Carolina, is even tinier Moncure.
The old Brickhaven mine is where some of Charlotte's ash would be hauled. It wasn't easy to find.
Vines had over grown the signs at the long-closed mine. Trucks and trains could soon be running through again, filled with coal ash from Charlotte to be buried.
David Tarpey, who has emphysema, lives next door.
"Where (you've) got ash, (you've) got dust, (you've) got wind, (you've) got it flying. It’s going to be airborne, and people are going to be breathing it,” Tarpey said.
Stacy McBryde said the old mines aren't massive caverns where the ash will be dumped far underground.
She showed videos that she shot while hiking there. The videos show that lush fields and fledgling forests have sprung up. Deep ponds where clay was once mined are full of fish, she said.
- RAW: Clay mines in eastern North Carolina - part 1
- RAW: Clay mines in eastern North Carolina - part 2
- RAW: Clay mines in eastern North Carolina - part 3
- RAW: Clay mines in eastern North Carolina - part 4
The water is what concerns her the most.
“You are putting it on a place that’s full of water, and expecting it not to leak?” McBryde said.
It also concerns Haw River Keeper (what?) Elaine Chiosso.
“My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh, no, not that area.’ They've got so much already,” Chiosso said.
The watershed area is polluted by chemical plants and is near a radioactive waste storage facility and close to five other coal ash storage sites, she said. She doubts that ash, even sealed with a liner and buried, will never seep out.
“No matter how great those liners are, nobody is going to tell you that a liner lasts forever. That ash will eventually go through those liners and clay and into the groundwater,” Chiosso said.
Charah officials told Channel 9 that its projects are “safe and will protect the environment” using "”specially engineered synthetic liners, with the top and bottom impermeable liners being heat-welded to fully encapsulate the ash.”
Charah said groundwater will be monitored and neighbors will benefit because the land will become flat and usable again.
Local leaders aren't convinced, and have passed resolutions opposing Duke Energy's plan, while citizens are organizing to stop it. Chiosso hopes that sends a clear message.
“Get people in other parts of the state to understand, wait, why are we making their problem our problem?” she said.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has had Duke Energy's coal ash plan since November, but still hasn't reached a decision on what will be approved.
Officials are just starting to approve the applications and then have 60 days to draft a response, which would then be followed by public hearings in the areas affected.
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