Energy for surface water and groundwater pollution related to coal ash ponds at the L.V. Sutton Plant, and later Cape Fear River Watch and the Waterkeeper Alliance took additional legal action against Duke Energy for surface water and groundwater contami-nation at the Cape Fear Plant. Since the groups filed the lawsuits, a number of significant events have occurred. Prompted by the groups’ citizen lawsuits, the state of North Carolina filed suit against Duke Energy for groundwater contamination at every coal ash facility. Seven months after the groups sued over contamination at Wilmington’s Sutton plant, a huge, highly publicized spill of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, NC, highlighted the danger that coal ash pond failures pose to NC waterways. In response to the spill and the subsequent investigations at other coal ash ponds in 2014-15, Duke Energy pleaded guilty to nine counts of criminal violations of the Clean Water Act and in May 2015 entered into a plea deal that would require the company to pay roughly $100 million in penalties and community service projects — one of the highest penalties in US history for environmental damage. At the Sutton plant, Duke Energy paid to install a new water system for residents of the Flemington community in New Hanover County based on fears that contamination would reach the community’s drinking water wells. Researchers at Wake Forest University found significant amounts of selenium contamination in fish in Sutton Lake. Driven by widespread citizen concern about the impacts of coal ash, the NC General Assembly passed the Coal Ash Management Act in 2014, mandating the cleanup of four of the 14 sites across the state (including the L.V. Sutton site, but not the Cape Fear Plant) and the prioritization of the remaining ten sites, with sites receiving a high clean-up priority requiring clean up by 2029. More recently, the state of North Carolina has cited Duke with a $25 million fine for ongoing groundwater contamination at the Sutton site. In April, dozens of letters were sent by the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources to residents near many of Duke’s coal ash ponds across the state, advising them to not drink well water thought to be contami-nated with heavy metals. Presently, Duke is working to begin cleanup at the four sites where it has been mandated by the NC General Assembly. A coalition of environmental groups is pushing Duke to clean up more of their ponds and pushing the state of NC to hold Duke accountable for surface water and groundwater con-tamination 44 WBM june 2015 caused by coal ash ponds across the state. Kemp Burdette is a Wilmington native and is the Cape Fear Riverkeeper. He is an advocate for a clean, healthy and beauti-ful Cape Fear River. Duke Energy’s Cape Fear Plant coal ash ponds in Chatham County. AERIAL PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK DOVE, WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE.
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