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.
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 email@example.com. 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.