Virginia agency proposes $2.5m settlement with Duke over ash spill

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said April 3 that it has proposed a $2.5 million settlement against Duke Energy Carolinas as a result of the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River, which occurred at a shut coal plant in North Carolina, with pollution flowing downriver into Virginia.

The settlement, part of a consent order to which Duke has agreed, is one of the largest ever proposed by DEQ. It includes $2.25 million in environmental projects that Duke must perform to benefit Virginia localities affected by the spill. The remaining $250,000 will be placed in the fund DEQ uses to respond to environmental emergencies.

“This order is a significant step forward in Virginia’s efforts to protect our communities and natural resources following the coal ash spill,” DEQ Director David K. Paylor said. “It also ensures that Duke is held fully accountable for the impact of this incident.”

A public comment period on the proposed order will be open through May 20. Afterward, the State Water Control Board must give final approval for the order to take effect.

The spill occurred Feb. 2, 2014, when a stormwater pipe beneath a coal ash storage pond collapsed at a Duke facility in Eden, N.C., sending up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and about 25 million gallons of ash impoundment water into the Dan River. The material moved downriver and settled out in varying amounts for about 80 miles, reaching the Kerr Reservoir in Virginia.

DEQ and several state and federal agencies have been monitoring the Dan River since the spill. Though no immediate environmental concerns have been identified, analysis of data collected during the past year is ongoing and will form a “baseline” for detailing potential problems in the future. DEQ said it will continue long-term evaluation of the river, including monitoring and assessment of water quality, sediments and fish populations for at least the next two to four years.

In addition to proposing the consent order, DEQ is participating in a multi-part enforcement strategy involving Duke. These actions include:

  • Cost reimbursement – DEQ negotiated terms with Duke immediately after the spill for full reimbursement of all costs associated with spill response on behalf of Halifax County, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Department of Health, and DEQ. Cost recovery to date totals $237,000 and will continue until work on the Dan River is complete.
  • Order for coal ash removal – DEQ coordinated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and other state and federal agencies in the development of EPA’s consent order requiring Duke to conduct ash removal from the Dan River. This included dredging at Abreu-Grogan Park in Danville, where crews removed more than 2,000 tons of coal ash and river sediment. Duke also removed contaminated solids from settling basins at the Danville and South Boston water treatment plants.
  • Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council – DEQ is representing the Commonwealth and local communities on the Dan River Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council. Along with the North Carolina DENR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DEQ is working with Duke on the assessment and compensation for harm to Virginia’s natural resources. Identification of opportunities for “early restoration” projects is under way with the trustee council’s review of proposals solicited from the localities and general public in late 2014.
  • Department of Justice criminal action – DEQ has assisted the U.S. Department of Justice in the development of its criminal case against Duke in North Carolina. DEQ said will continue to coordinate with DOJ to advocate for Virginia’s interests in any plea agreement between the United States and Duke, including the requirement of community service projects benefitting affected local communities and the Dan River watershed.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.