This December, Duke Energy Progress will retire the coal units at Wilmington’s Sutton Plant, and switch to more energy-efficient natural gas operations. But while those coal units are being decommissioned, Duke will keep their ash basins operational for what they say is a short time. However, local environmental advocates are pushing to excavate the ash immediately, as they say its chemical components could pose public health threats. WHQR’s Katie O’Reilly reports that the Sierra Club and Cape Fear River Watch have teamed up to launch a petition demanding a timetable from Duke.
Duke spokesperson Erin Culbert says Sutton’s closure method will depend on studies to measure the hydrology of groundwater flow beneath Sutton’s basins. She says that rather than completely excavating them, capping the basins with synthetic membrane could present a faster and less expensive solution.
"You will hear from some of these other organizations that an excavation is the only way to go. And that may be the appropriate method for that site, but it’s really too early to say. From our perspective, it’s important that we are basing these very important decisions on scientific data. We don’t want to base it on emotions; we don’t want to base it on perceptions."
But Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear River Keeper, says this decision-making process could take several years. He says he hopes the petition will force Duke to promptly drain the coal ash ponds, and have the ash quarantined in a lined and capped landfill.
"Duke has said, ‘We’re going to take care of this.’ So I wanna see a timeline that says when they’re gonna do what, and I wanna see what exactly the plan is. You know, we don’t need to study it anymore; there’s no question there’s groundwater contamination. We need to start figuring out how they’re gonna clean it up."
The petition gained its first signatures this past Saturday, during a Sierra Club-sponsored boat tour up the Cape Fear River to the Sutton Energy Plant.