LUMBERTON — Duke Energy has a week to determine a schedule of repairs for damages at the retired Weatherspoon Electric Power Plant.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a Notice of Deficiency on Tuesday saying repairs are needed on leaky pipes in the spillway system of an ash pond dam at the plant.
The notice said video footage of Weatherspoon’s spillway system shows “numerous gushers, weepers, drippers, and stains” and labels Weatherspoon’s dam as “an intermediate hazard dam,” meaning a dam failure could lead to “significant environmental damage to a tributary of the Lumber River” from a coal ash leak.
Lisa Hoffmann, a Duke Energy spokesperson, said an “engineering review” for Weatherspoon is underway.
“We plan to accelerate ash pond water removal at all retired coal plants to minimize the potential risk of a discharge similar to the one that occurred at Dan River. We continue to evaluate the most appropriate way to close the Weatherspoon ash basin,” Hoffmann said in an email.
Following the leak of 40,000 tons of toxic coal ash into Eden’s Dan River in February, the state has been inspecting all of Duke Energy’s coal ash pond dams, including Weatherspoon, which was retired in 2011. The plant was demolished in November.
The state on March 5 ordered Duke Energy to inspect all of its facilities that have decant structures by camera. Weatherspoon was inspected on March 28 and state officials and staff with the Land Quality Section for the dam reviewed the footage on April 7, according to the notice. The decant structure at Weatherspoon is a concrete riser with a concrete barrel and a corrugated metal trash rack, according to the notice.
Duke Energy says its 14 North Carolina coal plants are safe.
“The third-party inspections demonstrate that the infrastructure is safe and performing as designed, but some areas of water infiltration were identified. Based on this assessment, the company is already developing engineering plans to repair or close certain pipes and to continue monitoring the others,” the company said in a statement.
Duke Energy must provide a written response to the notice with a schedule for repair within 10 days of receiving it and must take “positive action” by July 20. The company could be fined $500 a day if it does not comply.
“Anything less than removal of the toxic coal ash from the now defunct Weatherspoon Plant is not protective of the Lumber River nor the communities that rely on it,” Christine Ellis, of the South Carolina-based Winyah Rivers Foundation, said in an email.
Winyah Rivers and other advocacy groups are pushing for Duke Energy to close all of its coal ash ponds and move the coal ash to lined facilities to prevent it contaminating groundwater.
The utility could either fully excavate the plant, which would remove all the ash; cap it by covering the basin with a synthetic liner; or employ a combination of both methods. Duke Energy has not announced a plan of action for Weatherspoon.
Duke Energy officials have said Weatherspoon is in no danger of an accident similar to what happened at the Eden plant, where a stormwater pipe underneath an ash basin ruptured, releasing gray sludge into the Dan River. According to Jeff Brooks, a Duke Energy spokesman, no other plant has that configuration.
The Weathersoon plant sits more than a quarter mile away from the Lumber River. The 54.5-acre ash pond at Weatherspoon includes sections on the north side built in the 1950s and 1960s. The south side of the ash pond was constructed in 1979. North Carolina has 14 coal-fired plants and at least 32 ash dumps.