Person Co residents vent coal-ash concerns to state

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Person County residents vent concerns to Duke Energy.

Phyllis Jeffers lives right down the street from one of Duke Energy's coal plants. She also has well water, but says it is water she hasn't been able to drink for about a year.

She said it was spring of last year when she heard that her neighbors' water was being tested. Jeffers then wondered why hers was not being tested.

"We were told because we were beyond the 1,500-foot border that wells were being tested for," Jeffers said.

So she requested testing.

"There are many different chemicals that came out in the test, chromium was one of them, vanadium was one of them, arsenic was one of them, lead was also one of them. I don't know what the standards were at that time, but at that time I did start receiving water from Duke Energy," Jeffers said.

Jeffers said she's been receiving water from Duke Energy twice a month for about a year. Water her family of six uses for any daily task that would require them to ingest water, such as brushing their teeth.

"It is crazy in the mornings, everybody is running, trying to get bottles of water to brush their teeth and just the fact that I'm having to remind people and even remind myself," Jeffers said. "It's a lot, just to be aware, that when you turn your faucets on, there's running water coming out of it, you can't drink it."

Jeffers joined more than 100 Person County residents as they filed into a room at 304 Morgan St. to tell state representatives with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality what they live with every day.

Since the big coal-ash spill in the Dan River two years ago, the state has been working to address what it says are long-ignored environmental problems associated with coal-ash ponds.

As part of the process, state environmental experts are supposed to use scientific data to develop a risk level that each coal-ash pond presents to the public health and the environment. This is supposed to help determine the timeline of when they will be closed and or excavated.

The proposed timeline for each classification is as follows:

High Risk Coal Ash Ponds - December 2019
Intermediate Risk Ponds - December 2024
Low Risk Ponds - December 2029

As is required by state law, the DEQ is hosting public meetings in coal communities across North Carolina to hear feedback from residents on what they've rated the coal ash ponds in those communities.

In Person County, the DEQ has rated both the Mayo Steam Electric Plant and Roxboro Steam Electric Plant as low. These are ratings most of the people in the hearing were not happy with.

One of those people was State Sen. Mike Woodard, who represents District 22, which includes Person County.

"In its staff evaluation of November 30th, the scientists and engineers of the DEQ rated the Mayo and Roxboro ponds as high risk and the Roxboro east pond as intermediate in their current conditions. After modifications had been made to the ponds DEQ scientists and engineers rated all three ponds as intermediate, which would require that the slurry be dried and moved to lined pits right across the street," Sen. Woodard said. "The classifications were reached on December 31; we learned that Mayo and Roxboro west were given a low risk classification while Roxboro east was given a rating of low-intermediate, a rating not provided for in the proposed legislation.

"My question is this, what happened between November 30 and December 31? What happened to the science, the engineering, the field work in one month to drastically reduce the risk of these ponds? And how was an entirely new classification recommended?"

PREVIOUS STORY: Residents to meet with Duke Energy, state officials over coal-ash fears

Though the majority of people in the meeting were concerned, there were also some who said they have no reason to doubt the state when they classify the coal-ash ponds as "low risk".

District 2 Rep. Larry Yarborough, who represents Person County, was also at the meeting and said this, "There's some good examples of things that are happening here that are good. The fact that the wells near the power plant have been tested to the level that they've been tested is a good thing. They found vanadium, and hexavalent chromium and they sent out letters saying we got this in here we don't know what it means but we got it, now they've studied it and determined that the level is a thousand times lower than drinking water standards."

A spokesperson with Duke Energy tells us Jeffers should have gotten a letter telling her of those well-water results. Jeffers said she never received that letter, but that she is still receiving water from Duke Energy.

That same spokesperson said they are still sending the water as a show of being a good neighbor while the state works to disseminate information about water quality in coal communities.

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