A Chatham County Superior Court Judge has issued a ruling preventing Duke Energy – for the time being – from dumping additional coal ash at sites in Chatham and Lee counties, according to a press release from an area environmental advocacy group.

Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said the March 31 ruling by Judge Carl Fox is in response to the organization’s contention that Duke’s plans to dump coal ash in clay lined pits at sites in Colon and Brickhaven don’t constitute a “mine reclamation project,” as the utility company claims.

“It’s a big, big victory for the communities who fought this. There’s no question about that,” said Vick. “Some of these people testified at these hearings, they helped do research for us, they just didn’t give up.”

Fox’s ruling is limited to potential sites which haven’t yet been excavated, meaning coal ash could still potentially be dumped in any holes which have. But it states that mine reclamation permits were “issued improperly” by the state Department of Environmental Quality and ordered the permits revoked. The question of whether the proposed ash dump sites constitute mine reclamation projects goes back to early 2015, not long after Duke announced its plans (subscription required). A hearing in December 2015 went against BREDL, which was joined in the court action by EnvironmentalLEE and Chatham County Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump, although the environmental groups appealed that ruling to Superior Court.

Fox’s ruling came after an appeals hearing in November of last year. In December, the Charlotte Observer reported that Lee County would now serve only as a “contingency site” for coal ash storage.

Vick noted that while a further appeal is possible, the election of Governor Roy Cooper in 2016 means DEQ is under new leadership, giving her hope that the state may see BREDL’s claims for favorably.

“They can appeal it, so we’ve just got to wait and see what’s next,” she said.