Coal Ash Neighbors Voice Concerns Ahead of NCDEQ Decision

BELMONT, N.C. – Hundreds of coal ash neighbors showed up at a public meeting in Belmont on Tuesday night.

State regulators with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality will decide by April what should happen to nearly 20 million tons of ash stored near the Allen Steam Station.

Duke Energy has long maintained it’s safe to keep it there, despite concerns about possible toxic material seeping into the groundwater.

“I have a problem with putting profits before people, people’s health is nothing to fool with,” says Gaston Co. resident Jim Mitchem.

Mitchem lives near the steam station and is a former Duke Energy employee. He says he wants the coal ash removed.

But that would take a lot of time and money.

Studies show excavating would take more than $1.2 Billion and would take nearly 20 years.

Duke Energy would prefer to cap in place, costing around $185 Million over nine years.

Another possibility is a hybrid option to cap some ash and excavate what’s closest to nearby homes.

“I would hope that they would listen to the people and not a corporation that’s looking to save money,” Mitchem says.

Duke Energy also argues 20 years of trucks hauling out coal ash would do more harm to the environment than keeping it in place.

Spokesperson Bill Norton says it could also mean higher power bills for everyone.

“We’re proponents of excavation and recycling when it makes sense for customers in terms of cost and communities in terms of impact,” Norton says.

Leaders with NCDEQ are also looking to calm worries that they’ve already made up their mind.

“We are very much in the evaluation phase so it is definitely not a done deal,” says Shelia Holman, with NCDEQ.

The department will make its decision by April 1st, then Duke Energy will submit its final plan in August.

That will be followed by more public meetings.