As discussions continue about Duke Energy possibly using the Charlotte Airport to store coal ash, a similar project has been underway for years at the Asheville Airport in Buncombe County.
Since 2008, three million tons of coal ash have been used to level land for an airport expansion project. A company that specializes in such projects, Charah, has been handling the effort.
"We have had no problems so far," said Charah's Chief Operating Officer Scott Sewell. Reporters were taken on a tour of the site on Thursday by Sewell, airport officials and representatives from Duke Energy. 40 acres of airport property are part of the project.
Before any coal ash was put down, a three layer lining covered the pits where the dumping would take place. The lining is designed the encapsulate the ash after the material has been compacted.
That lining, according to Sewell will last a long time. "Hundreds of years," he said.
Airport officials say they have been pleased with the project. It has meant property can be leveled out and used for taxiways and where hangers could be built.
"And it is at no cost to the airport," said one official. As part of the project, test wells are in place across the property to monitor groundwater for any trace of the coal ash. Airport officials say Duke Energy will be responsible if any issues arise in coming years.
The landfill project itself is expected to be complete by mid-2015 and construction on the airport expansion will begin then.
Once the landfill operations are over Duke Energy is not sure yet where the coal ash from its nearby generating station will go. "We are looking at possible places right now," said Duke's Jason Wall.
One big difference between what has been done in Asheville and what could happen in Charlotte is that the ash only had to be trucked two miles from the power plant to the airport.
In Charlotte, that trip would be fifteen miles or more. A study is underway to determine if that is safe and feasible. Environmental impact studies are also underway at the Charlotte Airport.