A public hearing on the state’s risk rating for the Belews Creek ash impoundments will be held Thursday, March 24, at 6 p.m. at the Walnut Cove Public Library.
“The public meetings are a great opportunity for the public to get involved in the classification process,” said Department of Environmental Equality (DEQ) Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder. “DEQ is committed to relying on science and public comment to determine closure deadlines. We welcome feedback from the communities impacted by Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds and hope that the public participation process produces additional scientific and technical data that can help inform our final determinations.”
On Dec. 31, 2015, the DEQ released a draft risk classification for all coal ash ponds in the state. In that release the department listed the Belews Creek facility as a low-to-intermediate risk. An internal staff report leaked to the press in December had had the facility ranked as a high risk facility due to groundwater contamination.
Mike Rusher, a spokesman for DEQ, said that leaked report was compiled on Sept. 30, 2015, before the DEQ had received a variety of needed information from Duke Energy about the facility.
“It is a very repetitive iterative process,” he said. “As new information comes in new draft documents were put out.”
He said the DEQ had received a Comprehensive Site Assessment (CSA) for Belews Creek from Duke Energy on Sept. 9.
“Comprehensive is a very important word,” said Rusher. “Receiving and digesting are two very different things. Staff are still working around the clock to get through all the data provided by Duke. The information contained in the Corrective Action Plan (CAP) report will supplement information in the CSA.”
He said DEQ had received a CAP for Belews Creek in early December.
“The department has not finished going through all the information that was submitted in early December,” he said. “It is an incredible amount of data and reports and modeling. One of the key things is to know the background levels information. When you look at background information with respect to exceedances you have to determine if it is naturally occurring.”
He said a detailed declaration of how the department came up with its classification for Belews Creek would be released before the end of January and published in local papers for three weeks.
“Until we get that declaration, it will be looked at as incomplete,” said Rusher. “That declaration will provide a response to a lot of questions being asked. It will provide all of the details and science and analysis and procedures which went into the classification.”
He said a full copy of the declaration would be provided to the county health department as well as the Walnut Cove Public Library.
“The department will also send out hard or electronic copies to any people that request it,” said Rusher.
He said a 60 day public comment period on the DEQ rankings would open as soon as meeting notices were published in February.
“People can do comment submissions online, at the meeting or through postal mail,” said Rusher.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.