Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Environmental groups push Duke to clean up ash ponds at rally / DR stories

Environmental groups push Duke to clean up ash ponds at rally

By JOHN R. CRANE (434) 791-7987 | Posted: Saturday, March 22, 2014 10:08 pm 

EDEN, N.C. – Clean-water advocates held a rally on World Water Day at Island Ford Landing along the Smith River here Saturday, where attendees enjoyed the warm weather, hot dogs and bluegrass/traditional music by a trio of talented young girls.

Several environmental organizations hosted the event to call on Duke Energy to remove its coal ash ponds from waterways and provide information on how it plans to clean up last month’s coal ash spill at Duke’s old Dan River Steam Station in Eden, which dumped 39,000 tons of the toxic brew into the Dan River on Feb. 2.

The rally’s purpose was also to celebrate the parts of the Dan River that were not polluted by the spill, as well as the other rivers throughout the Dan River Basin, said Jenny Edwards, program manager with the Dan River Basin Association. Edwards said she encourages residents and visitors to take advantage of the recreational activities the Dan River Basin’s waterways – including the Dan River and the Smith River – have to offer.

“They can help us by continuing to fish and paddle and enjoy the rivers,” Edwards said during an interview at the event.

The rally was organized and held by the DRBA, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices and the North Carolina Conservation Network.

About 100 people attended the event, where the smell of grilling hot dogs wafted through the air, participants visited informational booths set up by environmental groups and the Dan River Girls from Winston-Salem, N.C., sang and played bluegrass and traditional music.

The band included the Burdette sisters – Fiona, 15, playing the mandolin and cello; Ellie, 12, the bass; and Jessie, 10, the fiddle.

Two Eden residents interviewed by the Danville Register & Bee said they attended the rally because of all the negative press the coal ash spill has brought upon Eden.

For DRBA member Sylvia Grogan, the event provided an opportunity to highlight the positive attributes the Dan River and other rivers in the Dan River Basin have to offer. It’s to “counter the massive negative publicity that our community has gotten,” said Grogan, whose late husband John Grogan served as Eden’s mayor for eight years.

Carol Gwynn, an Eden native and resident, said she was glad the coal ash spill happened because it has brought attention to Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds around North Carolina. The incident and its publicity have forced the company and state regulators to take action to clean up the ponds, said Gwynn, who plans to join the DRBA.

“I have loved the outdoors and nature my entire life,” Gwynn said.

Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator for the DRBA, pointed out that the coal ash spill did not pollute the water in Eden. The incident happened downstream of the city, Adams said.

The spill coated the bottom of the Dan River with the lava-like mixture for 70 miles, including the portion running through Danville. The Dan River is more than 150 miles long, said Brian Williams, program manager for the DRBA. The Dan River Basin covers 3,300 square miles along the border of southern central Virginia and northern central North Carolina.

Joan Walker, high risk energy coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Asheville, N.C., said of the DENR’s decision, “We’re very happy with that. We’re glad that’s been chucked out the window.”

Walker lives downstream of Duke Energy’s Asheville Power Station near the French Broad River, which has been leaking arsenic into the river in levels exceeding standards under the Clean Water Act. Though she uses the river for recreation – swimming and boating – she does not consume fish from it, Walker said.

The site is one of the first to trigger the lawsuits filed by environmental groups to get Duke to abide by the Clean Water Act, Walker said.

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