RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Duke Energy and regulators with the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission announced an agreement Tuesday aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over water seeping from three of the company's coal ash ponds.
Under the agreement announced Tuesday, Duke will remove the water from three coal ash ponds where multiple seeps had been identified. The company also agreed to pay a total of $84,000 penalty for 21 seeps identified prior to January 1, 2015.
The agreement is not final until it is approved by the NCEMC. In announcing the agreement Tuesday, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced it would receive public comments on the proposed agreement from January 10, 2018 until February 14, 2018.
Specifically, Duke and NCEMC agreed that the company would decant the coal ash basins at the Allen, Marshall and Cliffside power plants.
The consent order released by DEQ defines decanting as the "removal of the free water on the surface of the coal ash basins."
The order says the process "is expected to substantially reduce or eliminate the seeps" that had been previously identified.
A schedule included in the consent order says decanting at the three plants' ash ponds must start by various dates in 2019. The decanting much be finished my March 2020 at Cliffside, June 2020 at Allen and March 2021 at Marshall.
Permits for the decanting will be issued by DEQ, which will also monitor compliance with the agreement, according to the consent order.
A press release from DEQ announcing the agreement said this process would help speed up the eventual closure of the three plants involved in the agreement.
"The proposed consent order aims to expedite the closure of ash basins at Allen Steam Station in Gaston County, Marshall Steam Station in Catawba County and Rogers (formerly Cliffside) Steam Station in Rutherford County," the agency said.
A spokeswoman for Duke Energy issued the following statement regarding Tuesday's agreement:
"This agreement represents a critical step in our ongoing work to safely and permanently close ash basins in ways that protect people and the environment."
"The Special Order by Consent provides clarity on how natural or un-engineered seeps from ash basins will be monitored and it paves the way for the state to issue nearly a dozen permits that the company must have before it can continue to dewater and close ash basins."