One Year Later, Impact of Coal Ash Spill Into Dan River Still Lingering In Danville


    Danville, VA-- Monday marks one year since 39,000 tons of toxic sludge landed in the Dan River after coal ash leaked from a Duke Energy holding pond in Eden, North Carolina.

    So what's happened over the last year? What have we learned? And is the river good as new or is there still some work ahead?

    The city said this had a major negative impact, and they still haven't fully recovered. But the good thing is that measures are being taken to make sure this does not happen again.It was February 2 2014. Passersby noticed something different in the Dan River. The water was unusually gray."We apologize. We take full responsibility," said Paul Newton, Duke Energy State President-NC.A storm drain pipe under Duke Energy's coal ash pond in North Carolina had burst, sending 27 million gallons of contaminated water spewing into the Dan.A wave of concern hit the public. The Dan River is the source for the public's drinking water."Thankfully it didn't have the health and safety impact that many feared and the drinking water has been safe all along," said Danville City Manager, Joe King.Hundreds of water quality tests put most people's minds at ease. Three months after the spill, Duke Energy dredged coal ash deposits out of river near the Schoolfield Dam.The pandemonium died down and Danville seemed back to normal. But one year later Danville City officials said it's far from normal. After years of rebuilding the city's economy, with the river as its focal point, the spill has in a sense crippled them."It's hurt our momentum. We're trying to sell Danville as the great place to live and do business. We've invested in the river district. The coal ash spill has kind of set us back," King said.He said it didn't just hurt the economy, but also recreation."It certainly did create a stigma initially and certainly now if you go on Google and type in Dan River coal ash that's what's going to come up. It's a huge problem that we have to overcome marketing wise to get people back on the river," said Brian Williams, Program Manager for the Dan River Basin Association.Environmental organizations said a year later the stigma remains in Danville because Duke only dredged and removed 8 percent of the coal ash that spilled. That's all the EPA required."This is regular sediment here... the brown. This is coal ash," Williams said as he pumped coal ash out of the the Dan River.It's angered some, especially the Southern Environmental Law Center, who had been warning Duke about a possible spill since 2011. "We brought legal proceedings against Duke to try and get it and DENR to clean up Duke's coal ash in North Carolina," said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.A year since the spill, new legislation in North Carolina now requires them to do that. They're clearing out coal ash ponds and moving the waste away from rivers."We've already begun the permitting work and work to prepare to begin excavation and our hope is to begin excavating coal ash sometime this year," said Jeff Brooks, a media spokesperson for Duke Energy.Duke is also required to conduct water monitoring until July. The company said they'll do it longer if they need to. They also created the Water Resources Fund- giving $750,000 to Abreu Grogan Park and the River Bank Fund.While they're pleased with Duke's progress, officials believe the city of Danville deserves much more."We can't turn back time, but essentially we'd like to be back where we started. Where we were celebrating the asset that the Dan River provides to Danville," King said.Danville as well as Pittsylvania County said they want more money from Duke for improvement projects near the river. Duke hasn't made any promises, but say they're committed to the welfare of the Dan River for the long-term.

    According to Holleman, Duke has ten lawsuits pending against them in North Carolina and one in Delaware.

    Local environmental groups said they continue to monitor the water quality of the Dan River and are working to reverse public perception of it.

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