- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina regulators have ordered Duke Energy to resubmit its proposal for assessing the extent of groundwater contamination leaking from 33 coal ash dumps across the state after deeming the company’s current plans “inadequate.”

The N.C. Division of Water Resources has given Duke 30 days to resubmit the plans with a list of proposed changes. Duke is required to perform the assessments by a new state law passed in response to the massive Feb. 2 spill at a plant in Eden that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with gray sludge.

Coal ash contains numerous toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and mercury. State regulators have said all of Duke’s unlined waste pits are contaminating groundwater. Duke had submitted its required monitoring plans to the state in September.

The state environmental department Thursday released letters it sent Duke about the proposed plans.

In one, Jay Zimmerman, a section chief, said Duke’s groundwater assessment for the Asheville Steam Station “fails to provide an adequate level of detail regarding the planned assessment activity,” which, if left unchanged “may lead to an inadequate assessment of environmental conditions at the site.”



The letters ask Duke to propose additional field work, including borings and well installations necessary to develop an accurate understanding of the subsurface conditions that affect groundwater flow, as well as how and where contaminants move.

Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the company will incorporate the state’s feedback.

“We share the agency’s interest in conducting detailed groundwater assessments that will drive to appropriate closure decisions that are based on good science and engineering…We remain focused on closing ash basins, which ultimately will address groundwater issues,” she said.

Frank Holleman, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he agreed with the state environmental department’s assessment of Duke’s plans. His group has filed several lawsuits to force the company to clean up its coal ash pits.

Part of the problem with the plans was that Duke was not choosing the “appropriate background wells” - which are used to help measure the extent of groundwater contamination.

“In this instance, DENR is right to require Duke to come out with new groundwater assessments,” he said.

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