Residents along Dan River concerned with coal ash cleanup delay

There's both good and bad news about the massive coal ash spill on the Dan River.
February 20, 2014 3:50:45 PM PST
There's both good and bad news about the massive coal ash spill on the Dan River.

The upshot is that state officials say a second leak with high levels of arsenic has been contained, but efforts to clean up the original spill have, for the time being, been brought to a complete stop.

The river is running really high right now after recent rain and snowmelt which has put a halt to the cleanup, and that is what has locals and environmentalists very concerned.

"It's going to hurt a bunch of people," said Eden resident Bill Wood.

For Wood and others who grew up in the area, the spill at Duke Energy's coal ash pond in Eden has changed just about everything from fishing, to swimming, to tubing.

When the river will get back to normal is something no one seems to have a good handle on -- from Duke Energy, which is responsible for the cleanup, to the state's environmental stewards at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"The truth is we've never had an event like this before so we are out there looking and determining what the next steps are," said Susan Massengale with NCDENR.

Federal environmental officials told ABC11 that the most visible evidence of the spill is still at the spill site. It's like a sand bar, but in this case, it's a coal ash bar about 75 feet long and 15 feet wide. In parts, it's five feet deep. We're also told down the river, as far as 70 miles away, coal ash has been found coating the river bottom.

And it's that sediment that has environmentalists worried. They say life on the river depends on the bugs underneath all the coal ash.

"These guys are toward the bottom of the food chain and everything depends on them, particularly the fish," said Jenny Edwards, with the Dan River Basin Association. "We're chomping at the bit to hear Duke with a very energetic and specific plan to try to remediate what happened on this river."

Duke will be picking up the cost of cleanup. Right now, there's no way to know how much that will be. However, the power company could be on the hook for more than the hard costs. At least one law firm is considering a class action suit.

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