Former staffers criticize DENR, Duke river clean up plan - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Former staffers criticize DENR, Duke river clean up plan

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A February 2 coal ash spill coated 70 miles of the Dan River with a toxic gray sludge. A February 2 coal ash spill coated 70 miles of the Dan River with a toxic gray sludge.
DURHAM, N.C. -

Three former employees at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources are calling out the regulator, saying recent staff reductions could be putting water quality in jeopardy.

Former staffers answered questions about the Dan River coal ash spill at a Sierra Club panel discussion at N orth Carolina Central University Thursday night.

In February, a spill from a Duke Energy plant coated 70 miles of the river with a toxic gray sludge.

George Matthis is president of the Raleigh-based River Guardian Foundation and was a DENR employee for 33 years before leaving in 2011. 

He was one of the panelists featured.

"I'm really concerned about what I see going on with the administration and how they're handling water quality issues," Matthis said.

Earlier this month, DENR announced it was eliminating about 70 positions in the Division of Water Quality as part of long-planned restructuring to make the division more efficient.  A spokesperson notes that most of those positions were vacant and all but a handful of employees were reassigned.

DUKE'S CLEAN UP PLAN CRITIZICED

Meanwhile, Duke Energy says it now has a plan to clean up the coal ash, by moving three leaky pits away from waterways.  Duke laid out their plan in a letter to DENR, three days before a March 15 deadline set by Governor Pat McCrory.

Duke now says it plans to remove all coal ash from the Dan River immediately and send it to lined landfills. After the company finds a location, it expects the ash to be cleaned up within two to three years.  Other ponds will also be moved to lined landfills and the company plans to remove the water from all retired coal ash ponds.

But Amy Adams, a former DENR employee who now works with Boone-based Appalachian Voices, says the plan is not detailed enough.

"There was no substance to this letter.  It did not detail a lot of the information that the department had asked for," Adams said.  "I believe everyone was expecting a very comprehensive plan, including cost analysis, some analysis of which plants needed to go first, a real substantive report about the coal ash ponds and what actions would be taken."

DENR also calls the plan inadequate and says it will announce their next steps in the coming days.  By phone, Communications Director Drew Elliot told WNCN DENR "will move to protect the public health and the environment" in that coming announcement.

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Derick Waller

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