RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Duke Energy said Wednesday it is negotiating compensation for depressed property values or a future with municipal water bills with the neighbors of coal ash pits, who fear the unlined storage basins have polluted their water wells.
The announcement by the country's largest electricity comes in the face of pending lawsuits by neighbors at some of the company's 14 North Carolina coal-burning power plants.
"They've forced us to get an attorney because they couldn't acknowledge our concerns from the beginning," said Amy Brown, who lives less than 1,000 feet from the company's Belmont plant and has consumed only bottled water for 20 months.
Duke Energy also said it will expand its delivery of bottled water for drinking and cooking to neighbors within a half-mile of its coal-plants, nearly doubling the scope of that preventative measure.
"It's worth noting that our financial supplement is being offered to all property owners in the half-mile radius whether they have a lawyer or not," Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan wrote in an email.
The Charlotte-based utility said it planned to finalize its financial offers to neighbors in the coming weeks.
"They hadn't set on how much or how it was going to be divvied out," said Johnnie Gurley, who lives near the company's Goldsboro power plant.
Coal ash is the byproduct left after burning decades of coal to generate electricity. Neighbors fear unlined storage basins have allowed mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals to seep into their drinking water supplies.
Hundreds of coal-plant neighbors last year were warned against drinking their well water. State health officials this spring withdrew those warnings after deciding the earlier warning threshold was set too low.
Duke Energy said last month it plans to cap unlined and potentially leaking coal ash pits at 10 generating plants in North Carolina and Indiana while excavating its sites in Kentucky and South Carolina.
The company plans to store in place almost 70 percent of its ash by dehydrating the storage pools and covering the area with a waterproof liner and dirt to encase the waste. The basin bottoms will remain unlined, and environmentalists contend that will allow toxic materials to filter into underground water supplies for years.
Duke Energy denies that its pits contaminate groundwater.
The utility delivers electricity to about 7.4 million customers in the Carolinas, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida.