Posted in:

Flooding Threatens Coastal Water Quality

Updated 4:40 p.m. Friday with statement from NCDEQ

The coal-fired units at the Sutton Plant near Wilmington were retired in November 2013. Photo: Duke Energy

NORTH CAROLINA COAST — Environmental threats are posed by flooding at two coal ash plants, several hog lagoons suffering degrees of flooding and damage and a partially treated sewage spill into the Cape Fear River after a treatment plant power failure, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Duke Energy notified state regulators that the 1,100-acre former cooling pond for the L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington was inundated by floodwaters from the nearby Cape Fear River, putting the reservoir at the highest alert level under its emergency action plan. The company said Friday that coal ash may be spilling into the river.

The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and replaced with a new generating station that runs off natural gas. Sutton Lake is now used for public recreation, including fishing and boating.

According to a Duke spokeswoman, the dam, which is adjacent to three large coal-ash dumps, appeared stable and Duke officials were monitoring the site with helicopters and drones. She said that the high-water level warning meant that if the berm were to break, minimal impact would be felt downriver.

A landfill under construction at the Sutton site meant to hold coal ash, which contains arsenic, mercury and other toxic metals, ruptured over the weekend, spilling enough material to fill 180 dump trucks. During the heavy rains, parts of the top level of the landfill washed away, leaving  exposed coal ash.

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality released a statement Friday afternoon explaining that teams from three DEQ regulatory divisions have been closely monitoring conditions at Duke Energy’s Sutton facility and have remained in contact with onsite engineers throughout the week.

“During that time, floodwaters from the Cape Fear River have flowed into Sutton Lake on the north side and back into the river on the south side. This morning, state dam safety officials were notified of a dam breach of between 100 and 200 feet at the south end of Sutton Lake,” according to the statement. “Additional reports indicate there are other smaller breaches in the dam. Although river flooding has approached the two inactive coal ash basins at the facility, it appears there are currently no structural issues with those impoundments.”

The state agency’s dam safety engineers are working with the Department of Transportation to perform drone inspections to determine real-time site conditions. “While the state is currently in emergency response mode, a thorough investigation of events will soon follow to ensure that Duke Energy is held responsible for any environmental impacts by their coal ash facilities.”

At the H.F. Lee Power Plant near Goldsboro, three old coal-ash dumps capped with soil were underwater Thursday after the Neuse River flooded. State environmental regulators visited the site but were unable to make a full assessment because of high water levels.

The Duke spokeswoman told the Associated Press that it appears the release of coal ash at the site was minimal but will learn more as flooding recedes.

State officials told the Associated Press Thursday that reports were received of earthen dams at three hog lagoons breaching, spilling out feces and urine, and another three lagoons had sustained structural damage. Additionally, 21 lagoons were flooded by nearby rivers, 30 overflowed and another 75 lagoons were listed as being at risk of overtopping.

About 3.4 million chickens and turkeys and 5,500 hogs were killed due to rising rivers inundating dozens of farm buildings, according to state officials.

Learn More

About the Author

Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.