Closure Plan – Weatherspoon Coal Ash Basin

Opportunity to comment…

This Thursday, February 13, 2020, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) will hold a state-law mandated public meeting and hearing to provide information, and record the public’s comments concerning the Final Closure Plan for the coal ash basin at Weatherspoon Power Plant (WPP) in Lumberton, Robeson County. The public session starts at 6 p.m. and will be held at South Robeson Intermediate School, 3268 S Robeson Rd, Rowland, N.C. 28383. For those who would like to speak during the public comment period, speaker registration begins at 5:30 p.m. and comments will likely be limited to 2-3 minutes.

Comments can also be submitted in writing to NCDEQ by March 5th…CLICK HERE.

Information about Weatherspoon Power Plant’s Coal Combustion Residuals Basin 

  • In 1979, an unlined basin at Weatherspoon Power Plant in Lumberton began receiving toxic Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) such as fly ash, bottom ash, coals slag, unburned coal and runoff stormwater created through the process of burning coal to generate energy.
  • After 40 years of use, the amount of CCR present in the WPP basin is estimated to be 1,676,000 tons and 40 feet deep.

History of CCR Action in North Carolina

  • Although the Weatherspoon CCR Basin was first evaluated in 2010 for leakage, it was not until a massive spill of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) polluted the Dan River with toxic heavy metals and chemicals on February 2, 2014, that the state of North Carolina took the issue of “Coal Ash” seriously. 
  • The North Carolina General Assembly passed the Coal Ash Management Act (CAMA) in 2014, which included requirements for CCR basins like the one at the Weatherspoon Plant, and in 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly amended CAMA, requiring the removal of all the CCR at the Lumberton power plant’s Coal Ash basin. 
  • Following the Amended Order Granting Motion for Partial Summary Judgement (State of North Carolina ex rel. N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Environmental Quality v. Duke Energy Progress, Inc., Wake County, Case No. 13-CVS11032) ruling concerning the Weatherspoon and other North Carolina power plant basins, Duke Energy was instructed to begin excavation of the CCR Basin within 10 years of April 4, 2016, and complete excavation within 12 years thereof.
  • Winyah Rivers Alliance in partnership with Southern Environmental Law Center began action in 2013 to convince Duke Energy to fully excavate the coal ash at Weatherspoon, an action successfully achieved in 2015 when Duke announced full excavation and removal of coal ash from the site. Excavation commenced in Fall 2017 and is scheduled to be complete by 2028.

Weatherspoon CCR Basin Final Closure

  • On April 05, 2019, NCDEQ directed Duke Energy to submit a Comprehensive Site Assessment (CSA) by June 1, 2020, and a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) by March 1, 2021, and on December 31, 2019, the Final Closure Plan for closure of Weatherspoon Power Plant basin and all other Duke Energy owned CCR basins in North Carolina. 
  • The CSA includes information about structures related to the CCR basin, details of the Weatherspoon Power Plant property, extent and location of the CCR basin and “historical groundwater sampling results” (Final Closure Plan, page 9).
  • The CAP includes state-mandated information such as the name, location and status of groundwater monitoring wells, a monitoring and sampling location plan and other procedures that facilitate restoration of groundwater quality. No details are available for the Weatherspoon CAP until it is submitted on the determined date.
  • Under the CAMA statute, all work done to remove CCR from Weatherspoon must be in full compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), the Special Order by Consent (governing beginning and end dates of CCR basin clean-up), dam safety modification authorizations, and all requirements for environmental permitting.

Weatherspoon CCR Basin excavation requirements include:

  • Operation of a temporary system in compliance with a NPDES permit to manage all water discharges
  • Use proper methods to control dust generated during excavation
  • Basin excavation of CCR, managed properly so there is constant progress
  • Maintain safety and integrity of basin embankment
  • Provide adequate storage for water on site
  • On-time closure of CCR basin with the area properly graded and drained so that vegetation will cover the site (Final Closure Plan, page 10)

 What happens to the CCR excavated from Weatherspoon

  • Duke Energy excavates the CCR, processes it onsite for transport by truck to two cement kilns in Holly Hill and Harleyville, South Carolina for use as a component in manufacturing concrete.
  • Excavation commenced in 2017.
  • By order, the excavation of CCR in the Weatherspoon Basin will be completed by April 4, 2028.

Inspections required throughout the Weatherspoon CCR Basin closure

  • Daily inspections are not required, although they can be mandated in situations where the dike surrounding the basin needs repair or if mandated by a state or federal agency.
  • Some weekly inspections are mandatory, such as basin integrity related inspections, i.e., “observation of upstream slopes and shorelines, crests, downstream slopes, toes, abutment contacts and adjacent drainage way(s), spillway(s) and associated structure(s), and other structures and features of the dikes.” (Final Closure Plan, page 5)
  • Monthly inspections are compulsory in areas such as groundwater well-related monitoring and readings, “water level gauges/sensors, visual observations and documentation of embankment slopes”. (Final Closure Plan, page 5)
  • An independent third-party consultant conducts annual inspections “intended to confirm adequacy of the design, operation, and maintenance of the surface impoundment in accordance with accepted engineering standards. Reports are to be submitted to NCDEQ within 30 days of the completion of the inspection.” (Final Closure Plan, page 5).

For years, many community, health and environmental advocates worked hard to push for the closure of Coal Combustion Residual Basins (Coal Ash Ponds) and the removal of the toxic waste that poisoned the health of our communities and waterways. Only after 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash residuals flooded North Carolina’s Dan River on February 4th, 2014 did the government begin to take action. The decision to fully excavate Weatherspoon’s coal ash pre-dated Duke Energy’s eventual decision in December 2019 to close and excavate ALL of their coal ash basins in North Carolina. This decision will ensure that our waterways and our communities will soon be free of ongoing pollution from unlined and leaking coal ash basins.

We are grateful for the many concerned citizens and organizations across Robeson County and the State of North Carolina who we worked with over the last few years so that Duke Energy would be held accountable for its coal ash pollution. We recognize those from our communities who have lived and continue to live near the Weatherspoon Power Plant and the worries you endured, fearful of the effects and impacts of the toxic chemicals that you encountered daily. Freedom from coal ash pollution in your community is not just a hope, but will soon be a reality.

This is your, state law mandated, opportunity to weigh in on the Final Closure Plan (CLICK HERE) that details the actions and activities that Duke Energy is compelled to follow until the Weatherspoon coal ash basin is finally closed by 2028.

Please take this opportunity to read the Final Closure Plan, submit public comments by the March 5th deadline and/or attend and speak out at the Public Comment session this Thursday, February 13, 2020.

Winyah Rivers Alliance

P.O. Box 554
Conway, SC 29528
843 .349 .4007

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