Local environmentalists are celebrating today after the owner of two proposed coal ash storage sites dropped their appeals to a 2019 ruling prohibiting the disposal of coal ash in Chatham and Lee Counties. The news came almost a year to the day of Judge Melissa Owens-Lassiter’s decision and closes the books on a case that has been in litigation for five years.

A year ago, Owens-Lassiter revoked the permits held by Green Meadow, LLC, a subsidiary of Charah Inc., the company hired by Duke Energy in 2014 to dispose of coal ash at the two locations in the Colon and Brickhaven communities. Charah had announced in September 2019 that it had no plans to bring any coal ash to Lee County. The original lawsuit was brought in 2015 by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump (CCACAD), and EnvironmentaLEE (ELEE), after Green Meadow received its permits.

In a release sent Wednesday, the organizations proclaimed a victory in their fight to keep coal ash out of their communities. Judy Hogan, CCACAD president, said she was “delighted” to know Brickhaven will stay closed and commented about ongoing groundwater contamination in the area.

“There is pollution left behind in groundwater and no telling where else,” she said, adding the settlement also requires enhanced groundwater monitoring for five years, including additional wells and more frequent sampling.

ELEE members Debbie Hall and Keely Wood issued a joint statement: “We have always been committed to the truth. We knew we were on the right side of environmental justice. We wish we could celebrate with all our members, especially those who live on Colon Road, who would have been directly affected. Winning this five-year court case just proves that community involvement and Lee County residents’ voices can and do make a difference.”

Therese Vick, coal ash campaign coordinator for BREDL, said her organization knew coal ash was “wrong from the very beginning.”

“The permits erroneously issued by DEQ allowed Duke Energy’s coal ash to be used as “mine reclamation,” she said, “even though most of the sites had never been mined. It is long past time that the DEQ develop regulations that are specific to coal ash, and not rely on a mish-mash of rules.”

Attorney Cathy Cralle-Jones of the Bryan Brice firm in Raleigh represented the groups and called the settlement (and dropping of the appeal) a needed bright spot in a tough 2020.

“We can finally rest knowing no coal ash will ever go to the Colon mine and that no more coal ash will ever go to Brickhaven,” Cralle-Jones said. “These citizens fought to protect their communities and did not give up.”