C-T’s Boyle takes an in-depth look at coal-ash fill at Asheville Airport

From the Asheville Citizen-Times
“Massive Coal Ash Fill at Asheville Airport to Last Years”

by John Boyle


For the past five years, excavators and dump trucks have been emptying nearly all of the 91 acres of two ash ponds at the Duke Energy/Progress plant in Skyland and moving the material two miles to the airport, where it’s being used as fill to create dozens of acres of flat, usable land.

In some places at the airport, the ash fill reaches depths of 60 feet. At the Duke plant, the old fill that’s being cleaned out is 90 feet deep in places. …

it is dirty stuff, containing toxic metals including lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic and other materials that can cause cancer and nervous system problems in humans. …

The issue of coal ash grabbed the nation’s attention in 2008 when a coal ash pond at the Kingston Power Plant in Tennessee ruptured, inundating homes downhill with some 1.1 billion gallons of a toxic coal ash slurry.

That impoundment was old and weakened, nothing like the new system at the airport. But the failure highlighted the dangerous toxins in ash — and just how much of it exists in America. …

Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper with the WNC Alliance, said his organization had serious concerns with the first phase of the fill project.

“They put in coal ash with a very marginal liner, and that ash ran off into a stream into a community that was all on drinking water wells,” Carson said. “But the good news is they did learn a lot of lessons from that, and the second phase they’re in the process of doing now has been done a lot better than it was the first time around.”

Carson describes the latest system as sort of wrapping it “like a burrito” and then capping it.

“I feel pretty good about how they’re doing it now, and I have a hard time complaining now,” he said. “They’re getting ash from the power plant, which has almost no pollution controls. So, it’s actually better at the airport than it is at the power plant.”

Environmentalists still find the immense fill troubling in the long-term, though.

One of the big problems with coal ash is the Environmental Protection Agency has never tightly regulated the material, said Kelly Martin, who heads the “Beyond Coal Campaign” for the WNC Sierra Club. …

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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