Some Sanford environmental officials cried foul Tuesday night after discovering public promises made by Charah, Inc. – the company contracted by Duke Energy to dispose of millions of tons of coal ash in Lee and Chatham counties – are apparently contradicted by the company’s own permit requests, which are on file with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
At a presentation to the city’s Environmental Affairs Board in January, Charah officials claimed that the project would restore the project site – inactive clay mines near Colon Road just east of the Sanford city limits – “to its original topography” and that the ash disposal would take place outside of a 50-foot buffer zone from any wetlands.
But on Tuesday night, EAB board members – and about 10 local anti-coal ash activists – learned from local GIS staff that the project will apparently leave a pile of coal ash 50 to 60 feet higher than what local GIS information shows is the site’s original topography (taken from a 2001 photo, two years before the site was mined), according to the company’s permit requests.
Also, agricultural aerial photos dating back to 1938 show that only 29 percent of the cells to be “reclaimed” were originally mined – leaving 71 percent of the project as land that has never been disturbed.
Additionally, officials learned that Charah has applied for four permits to mitigate damage to wetlands, defying the contention that any waterways would be protected by a 50-foot buffer.
“This is the application DENR has received from Charah,” Lee County GIS Director of Strategic Services Don Kovascitz told the board. “This information is directly from their permit.”
Monday night, the Sanford Herald reported that the Lee County Board of Commissioners is considering an offer from Duke of $12 million, with $3 million paid up front, in exchange for the utility’s right to move the coal ash here.
“What the map is showing me now is totally different than what (Charah) showed us,” said EAB member Bill Tatum. “The elevation lines they showed us, it was inferred – or misled – to us that all of the 8 million tons would be put in what had already been excavated, and that they would be filling the mine up.”
Later, Tatum asked Kovascitz if wetlands would be encroached upon.
“Two weeks we ago received a copy of an application from Green Meadow (an LLC formed by Duke and Charah to protect both companies) mitigate those wetlands, which means they’re going to put them someplace else,” Kovascitz told the board.
“Someplace else on the property? Or someplace else in another county?” EAB member Woods Doster asked.
“I have not seen any maps that show where that mitigation will occur,” Kovascitz replied.
Tatum said he felt the board had been misled.
“What we have here tonight, in my mind, this is a bait and switch,” he said. “These folks here that work so hard in protest, this could be the Achilles heel for Duke. They are claiming this to be a reclamation project, but only 29 percent of all five cells where the coal ash will be stored is a reclamation project.”
Tatum continued that given the information the EAB received Tuesday, he wasn’t surprised that Duke had offered $12 million to the county.
“With what they’ve offered, I think there’s a lot more there to give, or they wouldn’t have made the first overture,” he said.