Chatham Commissioners approve pending agreement with Duke Energy on coal ash

Pittsboro, NC –  Even though the state has already granted permits for Charah to move ahead with coal ash disposal at the Brickhaven mine in Moncure, Chatham County has reached an agreement with Duke Energy that will provide substantial funds to help monitor site safety and will limit the amount of ash deposited there. The agreement must be signed by both parties to be final.

Duke Energy Coal Ash

(Photo: Duke Energy)

“The agreement we voted on is certainly not everything we sought, because actions by the State of North Carolina prevent us from denying the site and have minimized our leverage. Even so, we have secured several important requirements that will help protect the safety and health of the community and natural resources,” said County Commissioner Chairman Jim Crawford.

Crawford said it was a challenge to negotiate key points when the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recently announced that it had already granted key coal ash disposal permits to Duke Energy. “This did not deter our efforts. With the help of our legal counsel, we were able to achieve several key goals.”

Crawford explained that the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act passed by the General Assembly ensured that local governments had no option to deny lined repositories and also limited local regulation of them.  “Anything we did that was perceived as precluding the disposal of coal ash would be struck down,  but we could bind Duke to testing and compensation for the risks our county has taken on for the state.”

The agreement would mean that Chatham County can still hold legally accountable two key parties: Charah Inc., the contractor managing coal ash transport and disposal, and Green Meadows LLC, the property owner.

As part of the arrangement, Chatham County will receive $18 million ($1.50 per ton of coal ash received by the Brickhaven site).  An initial payment of $6 million must be paid within 10 days after the first coal ash is placed at the site.  Subsequent payments will be made annually.

“This will give the county funding to monitor and keep track of various environmental risks associated with lined repositories of coal ash in and around the Brickhaven site,” said County Commissioner Vice Chairman Mike Cross, who lives in Moncure. “We will not hesitate to sound an alarm when it needs to be sounded. The safety of residents, businesses and natural resources in that area is paramount.”

In addition, Duke Energy would pay Chatham County $114,193 per year for five years to help make up for property tax revenue losses due to the closure of the Cape Fear Plant. The Moncure Fire Department also was impacted by lost fire tax revenue, so Duke Energy will pay an additional $300,000 to help pay off the department’s debt service for equipment and facilities.

The agreement would mean that Duke Energy agrees to cap the total amount of coal ash in Brickhaven at 12 million tons and would not allow coal ash from outside the state to be stored there.

The agreement would address issues related to the now-closed Cape Fear Plant. Duke Energy must work with Chatham County on future plans to more safely contain the coal ash already stored in ponds at the plant, which could include moving some to the Brickhaven site. Duke Energy also can’t send any other coal ash from other plants to this plant site.

Several specific safety and health measures were included in the pending agreement:

*         Delivery and Deposit Records:  Chatham County will be able to petition with reasonable notice to obtain the records from Duke Energy to determine how much ash has been deposited and dates of delivery. Duke also must maintain delivery logs as required by law and make them available to the county on request.

*         Permit Violations:  Duke Energy would be required to notify Chatham County if there are any permit violations issued by DENR related to the Brickhaven operations and must do so within 10 days.

*         Local Regulations:  Any local regulations generally applicable to all developments would be applicable to the Brickhaven site, including provisions related to setbacks, buffers, stormwater and lighting.  Chatham County already has issued a notice of violation to the site owner for preliminary clearing for the rail spur track at the site without first submitting a required erosion and sediment control plan.

*         Ash & Groundwater Sampling:  Chatham County could request and receive from Charah the results of sampling tests for the Brickhaven site performed BEFORE any coal ash is deposited.  This includes baseline sampling and ongoing subsequent sampling of ash and groundwater.

*         County Sampling:  With notice, Chatham County also could conduct its own split sample tests on a quarterly basis at groundwater wells on the site. The county also will use funding from the agreement to set up its own monitoring systems around the site.

Duke Energy will continue to support Chatham’s economic development, including the ongoing assistance of its industrial Site Readiness Program.  The company also commits to helping Chatham municipalities update downtown power lines and to promoting solar energy throughout the county.