Residents skeptical of Duke Energy’s Arden ash plans

Ed Mussler presents at Asheville coal ash landfill hearing
KEEPING IT CONTAINED: Ed Mussler, permitting branch supervisor for the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, outlines Duke Energy's plans for a landfill at its Arden facility. Photo by Ben Richmond

All but two of the 15 speakers at a recent hearing on Duke Energy’s plans to create an industrial landfill for coal ash expressed worries over the proposal. On Dec. 19, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality held a public hearing at A-B Tech to discuss the company’s draft permit for a 12.5-acre landfill at its Arden power plant. Just as Duke prepares to transition the plant from coal to natural gas, the utility is proposing to store roughly 1.1 million cubic yards of coal ash and industrial waste from the facility’s demolition on site.

Coal ash from the plant is currently being trucked to a landfill in Homer, Ga. The byproduct of power production is known to contain levels of heavy metals such as cobalt, lead and mercury that are toxic to people and wildlife.

According to a presentation by Ed Mussler, permitting branch supervisor for the DEQ, the completed landfill will be a pyramid-shaped mound standing 95 feet above the current ground level. Multiple layers of earth, geotextile and synthetic liners will surround the waste and eventually be covered with artificial turf.

Duke’s permit application states that leachate from the waste will be “conveyed to the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County” via “an existing connection” or “tanker trucks.”

Considering the site’s proximity to both Lake Julian and the French Broad River, Duke’s groundwater monitoring was a recurring theme. “The groundwater monitoring frequency of two times a year is inadequate,” said Amanda Strawderman, program coordinator and Asheville office manager for environmental nonprofit Clean Water for North Carolina, “and must be increased to at least quarterly.”

Strawderman criticized Duke’s plan to dispose of the leachate through the MSD, saying that the sewage system is set up to deal with organic waste rather than heavy metal-laden “contaminated sludge.” She also questioned the integrity of the liners themselves and suggested that other lined landfills in the state may be compromised. In June, concern over potential leaks from a lined coal ash landfill established in Chatham County in 2015 led the DEQ to order testing at the site.

Excavated coal ash basin at Duke Arden plant
ONE TO GO: Although Duke Energy has completely excavated a 37-acre coal ash basin, shown here in 2016, at its Arden power plant, the utility is still moving material from a second, 41-acre basin. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Equally troubling to many at the meeting was the proposed landfill’s location within a 1 1/2-mile radius of several schools, churches, health care facilities and densely populated areas. “The density of the area makes it unsuitable for coal ash,” said Gary Curran, secretary of the Biltmore Park Homeowners Association. “This is an unsafe location.”

Because Duke’s permit application only specifies how monitoring will occur at the landfill over a 30-year “post-closure period,” other speakers questioned the long-term integrity of the containment system. “Long after I’m gone, it’s still going to be a problem for our children and grandchildren,” said Asheville resident Sheila Lauerhass.

One of the evening’s only speakers to back the project, Hartwell Carson, called the landfill “the right way to move.” The French Broad Riverkeeper for Asheville-based MountainTrue said citizens and environmental groups have long demanded that Duke develop a solution for the coal ash, which the company has historically kept in unlined, water-filled pits.

“I do support this,” Carson stated. “I think it’s a responsible solution.”

While Arden resident Xavier Boatwright said Duke’s current approach of trucking coal ash to Georgia was irresponsible and unethical, he called on the company to use its money and influence to develop more innovative solutions than a landfill.

“We’ve got to take a step back and broaden our horizon,” Boatwright said. “Who better to lead the charge?”

Duke’s permit application remains open for public comment period until Friday, Jan. 10. Comments can be mailed to Ed Mussler, N.C. Division of Waste Management, Solid Waste Section, 1646 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1646, or via email to publiccomments@ncdenr.gov. The permit number (1119-INDUS-2020) and name (Duke Energy, Asheville Steam Electric Plant) should be included in the subject line.

Additionally, South Asheville and Biltmore Park residents are holding a community meeting in opposition to the landfill at the Biltmore Park Clubhouse, 1067 Columbine Road, at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 4. More information is available at avl.mx/6tt.

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4 thoughts on “Residents skeptical of Duke Energy’s Arden ash plans

  1. Mike R.

    We live in a complex technical world. Nothing comes without cost. Who was complaining about the electricity they used over the life of this coal station and the reasonable cost of same? It seems to me the proposed approach is good enough, safe enough. Certainly not “perfect”. But we are quickly finding that nothing we do in this age is without risks. Actually, nothing about life is without risk.

  2. joelharder

    Submitted via e-mail: PublicComments@ncdenr.gov

    January 10, 2020

    Mr. Edward Mussler, III, P.E.
    North Carolina Division of Waste Management
    Solid Waste Section
    1646 Mail Service Center
    Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-1646

    I am submitting (revised) comments on the Solid Waste Draft Permit Number 1119-INDUS-2020 (Duke Energy Progress, LLC, Asheville Steam Electric Plant Facility. Buncombe County. Asheville, North Carolina. File ID No. 1360597. Owned and Operated by Duke Energy Progress, LLC).

    The coal ash disposal site is on the power plant site, thus avoiding costly transportation of the ash, but concentrating the pollution. The components of coal ash are toxic metals: arsenic lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and selenium. These and other toxins cause cancer and neurological damage in humans. Coal ash is grossly mismanaged and the most common threat to public health comes from a slow leakage of toxic pollution from disposal sites. The most frequent way coal escapes from sites is when coal ash contacts water, allowing toxics to “leach” or dissolve out and percolate through water. In 2013, sampling detected illegal pollution at five locations draining to the French Broad river.

    The Asheville facility is located in a residential area. The neighborhood is well-established, multi-generational and includes the elderly, parents, teenagers, children, and infants. People with disabilities and are susceptible to illness live within the community. Children and the elderly may have a higher risk of asthma from elevated levels of certain air pollutants than a health individual aged between 18 and 64. The lake attracts tourists from all around the world and people from the surrounding community. People fish and kayak on the lake. Annual events include the 4th of July fireworks and the Festival of Lights. A mall with a dozen stores and a restaurant & bar is located within 200 yards walking distance.

    Within the one-mile project radius, the following were identified as potential sensitive receptors in the Asheville Steam Electric Plant, Environment Justice Statement dated September 30, 2019:
     TC Roberson High School
     Skyland/ South Buncombe Library
     Valley Springs Middle School
     Koontz Intermediate School
     Living Savior Lutheran Church and Preschool
     The Gathering Church
     St. John Baptist Church
     NovusWay Ministries
     Oak Grove Christian Church
     Brookdale Senior Living
     Care Partners PACE (Mission Health)
     Lake Julian Park
     Corcoran Paige River Park, and
     Zeugner/ Skyland Recreation Center

    The 2020 Census will occur and more data will be learned about the local population.

    My primary concerns are disclosure of information to the community, improved signage, improved quality monitoring, and regulatory oversight. We have to prepare for “stupidity” because “stupidity happens” and protection of the environment is the goal. My hope is Duke Energy will “bend” to accept these recommendations since they receive a huge cost savings for excavation and transportation. This may be the safest approach to storage of a pollutant until society can figure out how to process it into a reusable material. I am ultimately concerned that all liners have a finite lifespan, so truly permanent safe storage of coal ash toxicants will require ongoing diligence well into the future.

    PERMIT TO CONSTRUCTION PLAN
    Section 1.2 Background
    The Landfill site is surrounded by a railroad to the south, Asheville Plant infrastructure and Lake Julian to the east, undeveloped land to the north, and Interstate 26 to the west. The Asheville Plant is located to the east of the Site.

    Additional traffic lanes have been approved and construction is in-progress for Interstate 26. The Public requests NCDEQ assure the local community that new construction (expansion) of Interstate 26, estimated new traffic resulting from expansion of Interstate 26 and new construction to the Bridges do not have any impact on any activity (Construction Plan, Operation Plan, etc.) for the duration of The Permit.

    Appendix A
    There is no evidence that a Flushing Protocol is validated for the proposed Grading System. The plans offer design requirements with assumptions from theoretical (although published) models. These are not real-world conditions.

    Appendix D Seismic Parameter Estimation
    In the Citizen Times (December 12, 2018), Asheville felt a 2.9 earthquake at 6:30 AM on December 13, 2016 that occurred 20 miles west. The Public is requesting that such an event be used in a calculation based on Appendix D so that we know the local community is “safe” (at least mathematically).

    Note: In Appendix H MSE Berm Design Calculations re: The Berm, it states “As shown in Table 5, the calculated FSs are greater than 1.5 for long-term conditions, greater than 1.3 for short-term conditions, and greater than 1.0 for seismic conditions.”

    OPERATION PLAN
    Section 1.6 Signs
    I am requesting NCDEQ amend the permit to require new warning signs be installed along the perimeter of the 12.5-acre property. A location one-mile from Interstate I-26 means the MSE berm is located near stupid people arriving from anywhere.

    Section 1.6 requires one (1) sign at the gate stating, “No hazardous or liquid waste permitted.” There are no other signs required in the plan. Section 2.1.4 indicates “No fires permitted” but there are no signs. This is insufficient should anyone want to trespass (jump-the-fence). A fence (by itself) does not communicate to the public key safety messages.

    The pre-storm checklist requires a fence inspection when a storm occurs. I am recommending standard inspections (e.g., bi-monthly). The rationale: Asheville is the driest town in North Carolina (and often cited as the driest town east of the Mississippi River). Fence inspection (and sign inspection, if approved) would be verified that no vandalism occurred and should be recorded in accordance with Section 1.8 Record Keeping.

    Attachment 5: Berm Inspection Checklist indicates a check for wooded plants. I highly recommend new signage around the Berm that says, “No trees, bushes (or plants with deep roots) be planted on or around the Berm” (or equivalent). Some dumb-ass might think it is a great idea to put bushes around the edge of the fence or on or around the berm as a Lady Bird Johnson initiative. Or, lets hide the Berm from Interstate 26 by planting Weeping Willows (that will cut costs by preventing runoff). The other issue is Interstate 26 is a vector for carrying and releasing seeds/invasive plants from all over the United States onto the property of the Asheville Steam Plant. Signage would create awareness.

    The Engineer comes once per year and uses the checklist to verify everything is in working order so that means it’s 364 days of freedom to be stupid.

    Section 5.4.1 Post Closure Land Use states “The primary land use for the site after closure will be open dormant green space.” You need to change that section since I read you can’t puncture the MSE Berm.

    I could not imagine a worse outcome than a tree planting ceremony on top of the Berm and a commemorative plaque given to some Duke Energy executive for 30 years of service to the community. It’s the highest point of the property and the background of the plant makes a splendid photo of the 2050 Duke Energy financial annual report. I will be dead and rolling in my grave.

    Section 2.3 CCR Leachate Collection System (LCS)
    The Leachate Collection System is an important safeguard that collects leachate water that develops and pumps the dangerous chemicals back into the lined unit. The permit states “Alarms will be established to inform Duke Energy personnel in the event of high leachate level or other issues.” I believe “or other issues” is insufficient language for a permit. All issues for all alarms should be full described in any permit. Then, the regulatory authorities can act accordingly to enforce the permit.

    Section 2.3.1 LCS Maintenance
    The LCS Maintenance Procedure is inadequate. The phrase “Visual observation of the LCS system performance will be made monthly” (What is a Visual Inspection?) is problematic in context of the next paragraph that says “The LCS piping, including header and lateral pipes, will be camera-inspected prior to operation of the landfill and on a 5-year frequency or sooner, if routine cleaning indicates a blockage.
    A request to modify the frequency of clean-out and camera inspections may be granted by the Division based on consecutive inspection results and observed operating conditions.”

    I believe the reason is because the Construction Plan has no validation protocol to verify a Flushing Protocol is effective for the gradient and distance for buried pipes. Section 4.2.4 of the Construction Plan state “the pipes can be cleaned by flushing with water or by snaking in the case of severe blockages.” There is no data collection or intention to collection data in The Construction Plan that the Flushing Protocol works for the Design of this CCR Landfill. When Duke Energy elects this choice, I believe this organization has elected a more stringent quality control procedure going forward to monitor performance.

    The permit should be re-written to require a proactive approach to make sure a blockage never occurs. Training materials (developed by Duke Energy) should be written to state that “the permit states a blockage must never occur” if we follow the quality procedures.

    Flushing Effectiveness = Public Safety. I urge NCDEQ to change the permit to say: Duke Energy must conduct a camera inspection at a pre-specified interval to determine if flushing was effective. This is especially important since I do not see it mentioned that this is hot water (i.e., tap water is less effective to remove materials that have strong adherence properties to the materials of this pipe).
     100% Camera Checks. A camera inspection is not be a significant expense. This is an investment to public safety in response to not transporting this waste out of this state.
     Maintenance personnel can snake a pipe before it is severely blocked. It’s a good protocol because a person can break up a severe blockage (100% blockage, worse case material) and crack the 8 inch diameter pipe in the process. (Remember: We must prepare for Stupid People)
     This is a moral responsibility to protect the community. This is about family values. This is about saving babies. This is about saving the immune compromised. This is about saving the unborn. This is about the ground water. We may not know “how thick” the blockage will be, “the complex composition” of the blockage or if there are multiple blockages at the same time.
     As a Regulator, I want our Regulatory Agency to check that Duke Energy conducts 100% Camera Checks and I want you to cite the Facility if they Fail to Protect the Public.

    In Attachment 5: MSE Berm Checklist, the engineer will evaluate for drainage piping clogged (no evidence of drainage, obstructed pipes, standing water in pipes). Also, the engineer will evaluate the foundation drain blockage or malfunction (drainpipes are missing or buried, evidence of high flow or eroded soils are drain outlet). And, if there were prior repairs performed (over 60 years) or prior repairs require improvement – the maintenance personnel need to know such repairs are routinely effective.

    I fear that the liner will fail if the LCS maintenance fails.

    Section 2.3.7 LDS Response Action Plan AND Section 2.3.7.2. Action Leakage Rate Exceedance
    The News & Observer described the liner as “a sheet of plastic that’s no thicker than two credit cards stuck together.” Clay lined surface impoundments have a 9.1% chance of causing groundwater contamination at drinking water wells at a one-mile distance from the perimeter. (Regulatory Impact Analysis, 5-22, J.A. 1112).

    I am disheartened with the Permit’s Action Plans. This is a lacks approach to monitoring the environment. NCDEQ should be empowered to collect data and determine trends “for the protection of North Carolina’s environmental resources.” All the events that exceed the IRLR and the ALR should be submitted and recorded in a state maintained centralized database. NCDEQ can then determine if there is a site issue or an organizational/system-wide issue. Moreover, convincing data is required for political action.

    When a value is out-of-specification, the permit allows Duke Energy to conduct an average of 14 days of data. The result: NCDEQ will receive notice of public harm when data from 8 of 14 days exceed the IRLR and/or the ALR. The owner or operator has 30-day report (44 days after notice) and then monthly thereafter. There are a lot of reporting but no timeline requirements to complete any of the action plans in the permit.

    Section 5 Landfill Closure

    The Permit for Public Comment States: “The Closure/Post-Closure Care Plan outlines the closure activities and the post-closure maintenance activities. Closure is designed to minimize the need for long-term maintenance and to control the post-closure release of contaminants. Closure activities may be revised as appropriate for materials, specifications, technology advancements, or changes in regulations at the time the landfill is closed or in post-closure. In general, the landfill development is designed so that final cover can be installed as soon as practical.”

    The Permit for Public Comment also States: “Attachment 3: Closure/Post-Closure Care Plan [Submitted Under Separate Cover].” Inadequate disclosure does not help the public understand the full scope of the permit, the regulatory perspective that lead to the decision to approve the permit, and Duke Energy’s knowledge and experience in developing materials that lead to approval of the permit.

    NCDEQ and Duke Energy should not withhold the Closure Plan from Public Comment. The Closure Plan is an essential part of The Permit. The Public does not know the location on the property for the work of this Operation Plan. The Closure Plan shows the locations. Does the work for the Operation Plan occur near the Power Plant? Does the work for the Operation Plan occur near the border of the Property?
    This depends upon the transparency offered to the public to tell us where the installation will occur. I am requesting the Closure Plan for this permit and an additional comment period because the context of that information is necessary for adequate public comments to be developed and submitted.
     Note: Providing information in Section 6. Geographic Area “Asheville Steam Electric Plant, Environmental Justice Snapshot” is not The Permit. “one-mile radius around the proposed footprint of the new CCR landfill falls within the one-mile radius of the property boundary.”

    NCDEQ published Duke Energy’s closure plans on NCDEQ’s website on December 31, 2019 for the following sites as required by a settlement agreement:
     Buck Steam Station Ash Basin
     H.F. Lee Energy Complex Ash Basin
     Cape Fear Steam Station Ash Basin
     Weatherspoon Closure Plan

    NCDEQ should preemptively disclose the Closure Plan Objectives in the Permit; otherwise, The Public will hold both Duke Energy and NCDEQ accountable for all (emphasis: all) the planned closure activities below that are relevant to the site (regardless of $$$) when a irreparable leak is determined. I am requesting NCDEQ and Duke Energy state in the permit if any or all of these apply to the scope of the permit. The State is responsible for protecting The Public by being transparent on the plan that has been agreed upon when the permit has been issued.
     Construction/installation of stormwater management best management practices features
     Installation and operation of a temporary water management system (WMS) to manage discharges in compliance with the NPDES permit during closure
     Development of infrastructure for CCR excavation, construction of haul roads for transportation, and construction of the STAR® Unit for processing of CCR for beneficial re-use
     Construction of the STAR® Unit for processing of CCR for beneficial re-use
     Construction of haul roads and STAR® Unit for processing of CCR for beneficial re-use
     Construction and operation of a temporary water management system (WMS) to manage discharges in compliance with the NPDES permit during closure
     Removal of free water/bulk water volume via permitted outfall (i.e., decanting)
     Development of sump areas in the Basins to collect and convey waters to the water management system
     Dewatering the CCR to allow for safe access. CCR excavation and conditioning will be required prior to transport to the on-site STAR® system
     Excavate CCR from the Basins, with sequencing determined for optimal progression. Instrumentation and monitoring requirements to be developed prior to construction will be followed to verify construction phase stability. Construction dewatering to be used as needed to provide stable work areas and slopes
     Complete closure by excavation verification
     Breaching of the Basin dikes and dams
     Grading the perimeter dikes into each of the three basins with a grading plan that will establish drainage to promote flow of stormwater away from the former Basins in a manner protective of area soils and water.

    Of course, The Public understands that technology advances and the other caveats in such a response. That is stated in the existing closure plans and is no excuse in a response.

    I am also requesting disclosure of the Cost Estimate and Timeline in the Closure Plan for an excavation at this site. This is information provided in the published closure plans on December 31, 2019. We (i.e., my hope is NCDEQ should sympathize with the inertia of government) can all agree upon the necessity to have a realistic “budget target” to get anything through our legislative process – especially a largescale operation as implementing the Closure Plan.

    It is my understanding that Duke Energy is a part-owner for a portion of the permit. Should the transfer of the permit occur during the latter half of the total timeframe (i.e., if its 60 years, it would be the last 30 years), I believe that is a justification for being transparent to The Public.

    Section 2.6 Groundwater Monitoring Well Access Requirements
    The permit states “Vehicles should drive with care around the Monitoring Well.” It is unclear what that means (Is reckless driving a problem?) but I recommend appropriate signage be placed in the area of the Groundwater Monitoring Well Access.

    Conclusion
    In May 2015, Duke Energy committed to close the coal operations, conduct coal ash excavation, and build a solar farm. Unfortunately, I do not see the opportunity to develop a solar farm in the proposed permit.

    My position is the coal ash needs to be transported to a new location as soon as possible. This disposal site is too close to residents and the concentration of pollutants is too high. NCDEQ and Duke Energy must provide greater transparency on the Closure Action Plan. I am requesting this information and I am requesting a new comment period to review and submit comments.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  3. joelharder

    We should encourage as much Quality Control Monitoring as possible. It’s an investment since Duke Energy is “saving” $600M from moving the coal ash. The QC protocol is 8 days out of 14 days of out-of-specification results -> then, report to the state. If poisonous water is 7 days out of 14 days (or less) -> don’t report to the state. Why? Duke Energy averages the results.
    [7 days positive + 7 days negative] + (repeat) + (repeat) + (repeat) + (infinity)–> and the state will not know [seems overly broad]

    Totally Unrelated: Duke Energy is co-located to local communities with “cancer clusters” in North Carolina (as recent as CY2019)

    YouTube (“Cancer Clusters”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqT4sfe3v8M (30/ Ocular Melanoma in 50K population, 3x Thyroid Cancer)
    YouTube (“A Plea From Two Towns” – FULL Movie)- Duke Energy Position on Coal Ash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxGDjrKPRWk
    YouTube (“A Plea From Two Towns”) – Duke Energy Position on Coal Ash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x29YVQGH6zY

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