By Billy Liggett
Coal ash is all but guaranteed to be a reality in both counties – Chatham leaders approved a deal with Duke last week that would force the energy company to pay $18 million and place a cap on the amount of ash that can be brought in from out of state. Lee officials agreed to a $12 million deal months earlier.
But the overriding message of Thursday’s forum was “fight to the end,” a message delivered by Esther Calhoun, an environmental advocate from Uniontown, Alabama, home to a 4 million cubic yard coal ash site constructed to house waste from the nation’s largest coal ash spill 350 miles north in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008. The Alabama community – predominantly black and low income that did little initially to stop the site from being built – has since been forced to endure nauseating smells, constant noise from heavy machinery and floating ash that covers vehicles and homes, according to Calhoun.
“I’m here to encourage the people of Lee and Chatham counties,” she said. “I’m here to tell them there is a chance. There is hope. It’s not a done deal. They can win this fight if they stand together. Sticking together and gathering in large numbers can change a lot.
“Coal ash is hazardous,” added Calhoun, wearing a black T-shirt with white lettering, reading ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ “They won’t dump it in a rich person’s backyard. They’ll dump it where they think they can divide you. It’s time to fight.”
A lot from the meeting was not included in the article (which I had to write in less than an hour once the meeting ended … reminding me of how much I loathed nightly deadlines). I was unable to include local resident Lynette Hampton’s fear of the uncertainty surrounding coal ash and the effect a dump site will have on her home, her air and her water supply. I left out a talk with Whitney Stevens of Cary, a former Pittsboro resident who drove south to Sanford Thursday night to learn more about “the dangers of coal ash” and what she can do to get involved.
“Uncertainty” was a big theme for the forum, which was more of a rally in that in included nothing from Duke Energy or coal ash advocates (who are much harder to find when it comes to writing a story on the subject).
But as I stated in the story, the other theme was “fight.” Calhoun and Adam Johnston — both from Alabama and both involved in the fight in that state to regulate current dump sites in Uniontown — talked of how their local governments didn’t fight the energy companies when coal ash was brought in after the 2008 spill in Tennessee.
But their message of hope was overshadowed by reality. As stated in the story, Chatham and Lee governments have their hands tied. The state passed a law basically forbidding them to resist. Both governments were able to agree to multi-million dollar deals with Duke Energy that include some regulations … but the reality is coal ash is coming to Brookhaven and Colon.
“I feel like the government has forgotten about us,” said Dean Tipton, quoted in the story as living at “ground zero” of the Lee County proposed coal ash site. “If you go three miles from here, you see affluent homes. I feel they chose our area because this is mostly low-income families, and they probably feel we’re mostly uneducated and unwilling to fight. They’ll use their power against a lower class of residents.”
There was anger and concern in Tipton’s words.
“It just makes me sad. My concern is the health of this community.”