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Duke Energy creates Water Resources Fund

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DANVILLE, Va. -- The coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s retired steam station back in February was one of the worst in U.S. history. The company finished their cleanup efforts at the Dan River earlier this summer and now Duke Energy officials say they have a plan to make things right with the community.

The plan is to give $10 million to community projects that improve the quality, quantity and conservation of waterways in the Carolinas and neighboring states through a new Water Resources Fund.

“It hurt us more than anyone else when we stumbled. We're going to rebuild that reputation a step at a time. By having this commitment to the community, we believe we're rebuilding that reputation, which is important to us as Duke Energy employees,” said Duke Energy State President Paul Newton.

Duke Energy has set aside $2 million just for Dan River Basin Projects, including some grants that have already been announced. $500,000 has already been awarded to enhancements at Abreu-Grogan Park in Danville, Va., which is where the largest coal ash deposit was discovered after the spill in February. The River Bank Fund and Rockingham County Community Foundation have also received $250,000 seed grants.

Duke Energy officials say local governments, non-profit organizations, and schools are encouraged to apply for grants.

“We just hope the entire community will come out and try to take advantage of it. We encourage them to. Come up with some great ideas,” said Davis Montgomery, Duke Energy district manager.

However, some environmental organizations say that doesn’t address the bigger issue.

“I wouldn't downplay the investment that they're making into the region philanthropically. However, there is something they can do right now that will make a huge impact - that's to remove the coal ash lagoons from our waterways,” said Tiffany Haworth, executive director of the Dan River Basin Association.

Frank Holleman, senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center, agrees removing all coal ash ponds is the only way to make sure future generations don’t have to deal with this issue again.

“The most important thing that Duke Energy can do for clean water is to stop polluting rivers and lakes in the Carolinas and into Virginia with its coal ash pollution. Rivers and groundwater throughout the Carolinas are being contaminated every day by toxic substances like arsenic and lead from Duke Energy's unlined coal ash pits on the banks of our rivers. We hope that Duke will do the right thing and move its coal ash to safe, dry, lined storage away from our rivers and drinking water supplies," said Holleman in a statement sent to FOX8.