New documents show coal ash pond pipe a concern decades ago

BELMONT, NC (WBTV) - New documents uncovered by the Catawba Riverkeeper show engineers hired by Duke Energy were concerned about the potential for leaks with an old corrugated metal pipe at the company's Allen Steam Plant as far back as 1977.

The Riverkeeper recently obtained a copy of a 1977 inspection report filed on behalf of Duke with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Sam Perkins, who serves as the Catawba Riverkeeper, shared the document with WBTV.

Perkins found water leaking from an old corrugated metal pipe connected to a coal ash basin at Allen in December 2016 as part of an inspection of the perimeter of the basin.

At the time of the discovery, Duke Energy said it was working to plug the pipe to stop any further leaks. A company spokeswoman also said at the time that the pipe had been inspected twice in 2016 and no leaks were found.

Previous Story: DEQ investigating new water leak from Duke coal ash basin

Perkins questions why his 2016 discovery of the leaking pipe was the first time the public had known that the pipe even existed since the filing of the 1977 inspection report.

Perkins contended the report should have been turned over to state regulators and a federal judge in the wake of a major leak from a Duke-owned coal ash pond along the Dan River in 2014.

The Dan River spill involved a corrugated metal pipe similar to the one at Allen.

"That report should have been used in investigations by Duke and the state and federal government but that report was not handed over to them in documents," Perkins said.

Instead, Perkins said it took months of work through a public records request to the NC Utilities Commission to obtain the 1977 inspection report, the last report, he said, that mentions the pipe he discovered in 2016.

"The information in the report, lining that up with what we see in the aerial imagery is really concerning because you learn that it is a site that has had repeated problems, even after Duke allegedly fixed them," Perkins said.

A spokeswoman for Duke Energy issued the following statement in response to Perkins new claims in light of his discovery of the 1977 report:

"Duke Energy completed work to cap the pipe referenced on Dec. 22, 2016. As noted during coverage a year ago, this pipe was not on the historic ash basin drawings that were used in the 2014 assessment, but it was noted on other records dating back to the 1960s. The company has reviewed those other documents to ensure there are no other historic risers on the system that should be addressed. It's important to remember that these industrial properties have been operating for many years and have a complex network of infrastructure that evolved over time.

There is a specific process in the state law for us to identify and report any new potential discharges as we continue to safely and permanently close ash basins."

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