EDEN, N.C. — For nearly four months, Eden Mayor Wayne Tuggle, Sr. has been dealing with a complex question: how do you convince everyone your city’s surviving and vibrant when it’s linked to one of the worst environmental disasters in North Carolina history?
In early February, 37 tons of coal ash poured into the Dan River through a leaking corrugated pipe under a storage pond next to Duke Energy’s decommissioned coal-powered steam station.
What many don’t realize, Tuggle says, is the spill actually happened downstream, outside Eden’s city limits where the water flows in the opposite direction away from the city’s drinking water intake.
“Every article you see Eden’s name is attached to it and I think at the time, of course, it irritated a lot of us because you’d think the waters are running black with coal and that’s just not the case at all,” Tuggle says. “This took place on the Dan, but were three-and-a-half miles upwards of where the spill was. So actually nothing has changed in that respect as far as recreation goes.”
He’s referring to Eden’s businesses along the river that depend on tourists coming into the area to enjoy things like kayaking, tubing, and canoeing. So Tuggle spends much of his time these days trying to persuade people Eden’s open for business and is flourishing.
The downtown’s revitalizing, companies like Miller Brewing and Gildan employ hundreds and what was once double-digit unemployment’s now single-digit. Not bad for a place that lost as many as 2,500 jobs when a couple of major textile companies left town a few years back.
“I’ve talked to every news person that you can imagine from here all over North Carolina and outside of North Carolina,” Tuggle says.
Contrary to the opinion of many, Tuggle says Duke Energy has been a good corporate citizen during this crisis.
“They’ve been very responsible, in my opinion, of trying to take care of a bad situation,” Tuggle says. “Why in the world would they not want to do everything. I mean nobody’s scrutinized more than Duke right now.”