Green in brief: Asheville coal ash landfill hearing on Dec. 19, bear concerns escalate

Jason Walls with Duke Energy gas-fired power plant
WORK IN PROGRESS: Jason Walls, Duke Energy district manager, stands in front of the utility's new gas-fired power plant in Arden during construction in October 2018. Pending regulatory approval, Duke plans to add a landfill for coal ash to the property beside Lake Julian. Photo by Daniel Walton

Asheville coal ash landfill hearing on Dec. 19

After years of hauling coal ash over 120 miles from basins at its Arden power plant to a Georgia landfill, Duke Energy is hoping to keep things quite a bit closer to home. At 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19, a public hearing will take place in Room B of the Mission Health/A-B Tech Conference Center at 340 Victoria Road in Asheville regarding the utility’s plans to build a 12.5-acre landfill on its property beside Lake Julian.

According to documents on file with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, Duke applied for the landfill permit on June 17. The proposed location is to the northwest of the utility’s new gas-fired power plant, between Interstate 26 and the western shore of Lake Julian, and would hold approximately 1.1 million cubic yards of waste after being filled over roughly 2 1/2 years.

Jason Walls, Duke Energy district manager, says the utility had considered building an on-site landfill several years ago but was unable to find a suitable location. Construction yards created for the new gas plant, he explains, now offer a “real estate opportunity” for coal ash disposal.

Walls says that on-site storage will be quicker, cheaper and less dangerous than the current practice of shipping ash by truck. “It’d be the equivalent of taking about 67,000 trucks off of the roads that they’re traveling now to go to Homer, Ga., which include residential neighborhoods as well as the interstate,” he says. “This [lined landfill] will provide tremendous protection to groundwater and provide a safe and cost-effective way to store ash.”

Once the landfill is capped, Walls says, Duke plans to cover it with solar panels to complement existing plans for solar on the closed coal basins. Interested parties can submit public comment on the proposal at the Dec. 19 hearing or by emailing Ed Mussler at the N.C. Division of Waste Management at publiccomments@ncdenr.gov through Friday, Jan. 10.

Local group cites Montana experts on bear amputation concerns

Asheville-area bears with missing limbs have some local residents worried about foul play — and now, they’re citing expert opinions to back up their concerns. On Nov. 8, the community group Help Asheville Bears issued a statement from Brian Sommers, a criminal investigator with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, suggesting that the amputations were due to illegal traps.

Along with two department colleagues, Sommers argued that the injuries observed in photographs provided by the group were not consistent with vehicle collisions, which experts with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission have said are the likely cause. “Given the fact that you have approximately 12-plus bears in a 25- to 50-square-mile area showing the same type of leg loss, it is very apparent that you have someone in the area that is baiting or attracting the bears in and then using snares to try and trap or capture the bears,” he wrote.

Help Asheville Bears, which has swelled to over 73,000 members on Facebook since its founding in late August, is calling for the state to “publicly walk back its car strikes theory” and find the root cause of the bear injuries (See “County rejects tiny home zoning change,” Nov. 27). The group has listed a $50,000 reward, backed by Carol and Scotty Morgan of Asheville, for information leading to the conviction of those responsible. The group can be reached by email at helpashevillebears@gmail.com.

Hopeful happenings

  • Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy solar project
    SUN ROOF: During the week of Nov. 18, Asheville-based SolFarm Solar Co. installed solar panels atop the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s Merrimon Avenue office. Photo courtesy of SAHC

    Over the week of Nov. 18, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy installed solar panels on the roof of its Merrimon Avenue headquarters. The project was carried out by SolFarm Solar Co. of Asheville. “Hearing folks walking above your head is a bit odd, but I love that every clunk and bump means we are one step closer to having solar panels on the roof,” wrote Angela Shepherd, SAHC communications director, in an email to Xpress.

  • Students at Estes Elementary School planted 10 shade trees at their South Asheville campus on Nov. 22 in support of a new Asheville GreenWorks goal to plant 50,000 trees by 2040. Asheville City Council member Vijay Kapoor, whose children attend Estes and who financially supported the planting, wrote in a press release, “Planting trees is one of the easiest and most effective ways to combat climate change, beautify Asheville and reduce stormwater impacts.”
  • A group led by activist Steve Norris and sponsored by Asheville nonprofit Community Roots held a fast and prayer campaign at the Vance Monument from Nov. 25-27 to bring attention to environmental concerns. In a release announcing the event, Norris called it “an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which the earth, her air, her water, her animals and so many other things we need for life are now endangered.”

Tips of the hat

  • Emily Avery receiving award from Michael Regan
    SUITABLE FOR FRAMING: UNC Asheville student Emily Avery, center left, receives her environmental education certificate from Michael Regan, center right, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. Photo courtesy of UNCA

    Gary Higgins, director of the Buncombe County Soil & Water Conservation District, retired from his role on Nov. 29 after 36 years with the county. “Gary has made a significant impact on helping landowners preserve their natural resources and undoubtedly has made Buncombe County a better place with his conservation expertise and relentless work ethic,” the county wrote in commemoration of Higgins’ service.

  • Emily Avery, an environmental studies student at UNC Asheville who plans to become a middle school science teacher, received the Environmental Education Certification offered through the NCDEQ. Department Secretary Michael Regan presented Avery with her certificate in person at UNCA on Oct. 23.
  • Asheville-based nonprofit EcoForesters announced its Root Cause awards for sustainable forestry on Nov. 7. Winners included the North Carolina Audubon Society’s Aimee Tomcho for Sustainable Use of Forest Products, retired Haywood Community College forestry professor John Palmer for Lifetime Achievement, and Polk County landowners Linda and Ellis Fincher for EcoForester of the Year.
  • The city of Brevard was featured in a Nov. 19 report released by The Pew Charitable Trusts regarding policy solutions to local flood risk. Researchers highlighted Brevard’s regulatory approach to floodplain construction, which they called “one of the nation’s strongest.”
  • The WNC Sierra Club announced the winners of its annual Environmental Recognition Awards, to be presented at the nonprofit’s annual holiday party on Thursday, Dec. 5. Among those honored were Molly Diggins, chapter director of the North Carolina Sierra Club; Brownie Newman, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners; Sam Evans, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center; outdoors company REI; the Carolina Mountain Club; and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville.
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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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2 thoughts on “Green in brief: Asheville coal ash landfill hearing on Dec. 19, bear concerns escalate

  1. Frank Bolin

    Having worked with Engineering within our Oak Ridge Reservations Y-12, K-25 and X-10 with DOE Q Your band-aid over slippery, slimy and contaminated Smoked UP coal ash will help absorb heat however, foundations of Super Structures i.e. Pile Drives down into earth after penetrating the slime coal ash and a base of Sub-Structures above the ash for the productive Solar Panels and Electrical to with stand episodes that as Kingston Steam Plant, Kingston, TN drastic slides into creeks, river and ruins of personal properties.
    Thanking You and wishing Ashville, NC full success,
    Frank Bolin

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