Duke submits final clean up progress report declaring that all ash has been removed at Riverbend

From Riverkeeper Brandon Jones

This week, Duke Energy submitted their final 6 Month Progress report on the clean up of coal ash at the retired Riverbend Stream Station on Mountain Island Lake. Duke has removed all ash from the site, totaling 7.4 million tons, to permanent lined storage.

Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones commented “This announcement should be celebrated by the residents of Gaston and Mecklenburg counties who fought and advocated for the protection of their drinking water. We are now one step closer to the elimination of coal ash as a threat to the Catawba River. We look forward to the day when all ash is either recycled or stored in lined and monitored landfills.”

Prior to the cleanup, ash was stored behind leaking dams on the banks of the lake. Coal ash contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, selenium, and chromium. Mountain Island Lake is the drinking water reservoir for over 800,000 residents of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. With the ash removed, final grading is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Contaminated groundwater on site will continue to be monitored and remediated until it meets NC standards.

This report marks a significant milestone in the almost 8-year campaign by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation (CRF) to clean up coal ash. After initial sampling by the Catawba Riverkeeper in 2012 showed contamination and unpermitted discharges, the organization partnered with Waterkeeper Alliance to file a Notice of Intent to sue under the Clean Water Act. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) represented both groups in this action. After the State intervened and other groups issued similar notices the suit grew to encompass 14 coal fired power plants across the State of North Carolina.

During this litigation the facility at Dan River suffered a breech and discharged 39,000 tons of ash into the adjacent river. This prompted the legislature to pass the Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) which called for the assessment of all NC coal ash sites. Sites classified as “High Hazard” including Riverbend, had to be excavated within 5 years. That deadline was this August.

Riverbend is the 1st of the 4 coal fired plants along the Catawba to finish. The next will be SCE&G’s Wateree facility in SC where a cleanup started in 2012. The remaining 2 sites are operated by Duke Energy on Lake Norman and Lake Wylie. Duke is currently appealing the decision by NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) which requires them to excavate the ash at the remaining sites and move it to lined storage.

Pictures from 2009, 2017, and July 2019.