Rail cars laden with coal ash rolling into Virginia landfill

By Steve Szkotak, Associated Press

Two years after one of the nation's worst coal ash spills, 1 1/2 million tons of the potentially toxic waste byproduct from coal-fired power generation is being moved by rail from the banks of the Dan River in North Carolina to a landfill in central Virginia.

Rail cars filled with coal ash await departure from the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. Two years after one of the nation’s worst coal ash spills, 1.5 million tons of the potentially toxic waste from coal-fired power generation is being moved by rail from the banks of the Dan River in North Carolina to a landfill in central Virginia. Three times a week, about 30 rail cars are loaded with coal ash from Duke Energy impoundments in Eden, North Carolina, and hauled to a landfill in Amelia County. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two years after one of the nation's worst coal ash spills, 1 ½ million tons of the potentially toxic waste byproduct from coal-fired power generation is being moved by rail from the banks of the Dan River in North Carolina to a landfill in central Virginia.

Three times a week, about 30 rail cars are loaded with coal ash from Duke Energy impoundments in Eden, North Carolina, and hauled to the landfill in rural Amelia County, about 40 miles southwest of Richmond.

Those shipments are scheduled to double in February, increasing to 60 rail cars three times a week, each rail car carrying more than 100 tons of what the industry calls coal combustion residuals.

The February 2014 breach of a stormwater pipe at the coal ash impoundment in North Carolina sent a stew of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River, fouling 70 miles of its waters and depositing tons of coal ash along the riverfront of Danville, Virginia.

The spill outraged environmental and river protection groups in Virginia. Now, however, they appear pleased to see the coal ash being moved, even if it means the waste crosses the Virginia line.

"We support the removal of the coal ash from the Dan River site and its movement away from the rivers and lakes and its placement in lined containment facilities to limit ground water contamination," said Andrew Lester, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association.

The Southern Environmental Law Center called Duke's Dan River coal ash site "very dangerous to the waters and communities of North Carolina and Virginia."

"The coal ash there is stored in unlined pits directly on the Dan River..." SELC senior attorney Frank Holleman said in an email to The Associated Press. "The earthen dikes there are old and the piping system failed."

According to landfill owner and operator Waste Management of Virginia Inc., the 404-acre Maplewood landfill in Jetersville, where the coal ash is being accepted as solid waste, has a double liner system advocated by environmental groups. The landfill has been accepting coal ash from within Virginia and out-of-state impoundments since it opened in 1993, Waste Management officials said.

Some 3 million tons of coal ash is located at the Eden site. Half of that is being moved to Virginia, Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks said in an interview. He said Duke decided to move coal ash by rail because it is efficient and safe and it keeps waste-laden trucks off local roads.

While the Dan River site is among the smallest of Duke's coal ash impoundments, it has been deemed a priority because of its proximity to the river, meaning the utility has tighter deadlines to deal with the coal ash.

"It was a really a good option for us and helps us to meet our requirements under state law," Brooks said of the Maplewood landfill.

In Amelia County, the steady parade of rail cars loaded with coal ash since late 2015 has hardly raised an eyebrow in this farming community, county administrator A. Taylor Harvie III said.

"It's pretty much business as usual," he said Wednesday. County inspectors are stationed at the landfill, he added, and Waste Management has been a solid corporate citizen since the landfill opened more than 20 years ago.

"If there's a real problem, you go to them, you look them square in the eye and they fix it right away," Harvie said. "They have been responsive and that's all you can ask."

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