After the revelation that Duke Energy offered $12 million and key concessions to the Lee County Board of Commissioners in the fight over the utility’s plans to dump coal ash at a site along Colon Road, the Rant noted that former commissioner and local Republican thought leader Jim Womack appeared opportunistic at best in his arguments against the deal.

Now that the board’s Democratic majority has accepted the money and concessions in exchange for agreeing to not seek legal action against Duke, Womack’s troops on the board appear to be following suit.

mqdefaultFrom Friday’s Sanford Herald (subscription required):

Commissioner Kirk Smith, who was not present for the vote for work-related reasons, said his vote would have been “contingent on dedicating the funds to the citizens most affected by the coal ash reclamation project and providing a public comment period.” He said possible uses of the funds could include connecting homeowners on water wells near the site to city water.

“Clearly, the communities of Colon and Osgood should have input on how to use those funds exclusively,” he said. “The spendthrifts on the board should not count on using those funds elsewhere in the county.”

Not only does Smith’s rhetoric mirror Womack’s recent comments, but they’re also directly at odds with his own published statements on the matter which appeared in The Herald as recently as January (subscription required).

“If coal ash is so toxic, why are the municipal water plants still taking water out of the Dan River? Why is there no measurable increase in the toxicity in the water of the Dan River?” he said, referencing a well-publicized coal ash spill a year ago at the retired Dan River coal plant. “How can we claim that coal ash is a toxic waste after the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] ruled that it was not?”

Smith also made similar comments to WRAL.com (no subscription required) on January 5, after he cast the board’s lone vote against a resolution officially opposing the coal ash dump. In fact, in that article Smith even endorsed the board’s eventual course of action in accepting a payment since Duke’s plans were unlikely to be stopped:

(Smith) said the dangers of coal ash are overblown, using the Dan River spill as an example.

“All the water systems down river did not close down,” he said. “They have not noticed any increases in the heavy metals attributed to coal ash.”

Smith said coal ash is coming to Lee County one way or another, so instead of a resolution, it may be time to make a deal.

“Tone it down and compensate us for being a dump site, or as they call it, a reclamation site,” he said.

Meanwhile, Friday’s edition of the Herald also found Smith’s Republican colleague Andre Knecht adding confusion to the debate by making unsubstantiated claims about the city of Sanford’s alleged involvement with the deal, claims which the Herald published despite Sanford Mayor Chet Mann’s assertion that there had been no offer to the city by Duke.

aknecht“Duke has spoken to the city about these projects, and as of [Thursday], I am told they have made a monetary commitment to the sports complex,” he said. “There is possibly more information that the citizens of Lee are unaware of.”

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann acknowledged there had been discussions with Duke Energy regarding questions about coal ash, but maintained that Duke Energy had not approached any council member with any type of offer. But he said there had been discussions with some county officials about the city’s “wish list” if and when a settlement was reached.

“If Duke has confirmed that to Commissioner Knecht, they have not confired (sic) that to anyone in the city, including the mayor’s office,” he said.

What is going on here? Kirk Smith and Jim Womack have done a complete 180 from endorsing a deal with Duke that would entitle the county to compensation for the inevitable coal ash dump (which they claimed would have no ill effects) to whining that the board’s Democrats did what they asked and being disingenuously ominous about something they said as recently as this calendar year would not happen. Knecht, for his part, is splashing mud on the city’s Democratic leadership for something that will take place outside of the city limits.

While activist opponents of the ash dump are certainly disappointed that it will most certainly happen, they should bear in mind that one side of this debate (the county’s Democratic leadership) has maintained the same position from the start: coal ash is bad, there’s not much the county can do to stop it from happening, and the best outcome may be to see some compensation. Even the Herald editorialized (subscription required) to that effect today.

The other side, depending on the day it’s asked, has made every argument in the book. Given that the goal at one time was ostensibly to receive compensation from a “corporate partner,” and that now the goal is ostensibly to look out for the people, maybe it’s true that the goal is something else entirely: to regain power. The Rant has said before and will say again – “don’t be fooled.”

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