Dead turtles found on Dan River bank after coal ash spill

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DANVILLE, Va. -- Pictures a Danville fisherman took of two dead turtles on the Dan River bank have been shared more than 1,000 times online.

The pictures come in the wake of 82,000 tons of coal ash leaking into the Dan River from a Duke Energy site.

Morris Lawson never intended to create so much attention with his pictures. "But I'm sort of glad people are seeing what's happening here," he pointed out.

Lawson said the river is his second home. He fishes there at least four times a week and knows the wildlife and the water.

He said Duke Energy's coal ash spill is already changing things on the Dan River.

"You can step off right there and you’re going to go up in six inches of ash," he said of the river bank.

Last Tuesday, Lawson was at the boat ramp near Schoolfield Dam in Danville when he found two turtles dead in two different locations on the river bank.

"One turtle was at the dam up on the bank about two feet out of the water. And the other turtle was located about where that tree is [by the boat ramp] about two feet up out of the water on the bank. And he was on his back. The other one was on his belly," explained Lawson.

Jenny Edwards is a program manager with the Dan River Basin Association.

"We have heard some reports that turtles appear to be crawling up on the banks and dying," she told FOX8.

Edwards added, "Turtles should be hibernating this time of year. It’s cold. They hibernate down in the mud. The fact that they’re crawling up on the bank and dying, even if it’s not in mass numbers... It’s highly unusual."

She emphasized, "Even though we can’t directly link it to coal ash, this is exactly the sort of thing we expected to start seeing."

According to a release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff reported Monday that they have not directly observed any sick or dead fish or wildlife in the Dan River. Staff with the service also reported Monday that a few residents reported seeing dead turtles at two Virginia parks."

The release also said, "The service's biologists visited both of those sites but didn't find any carcasses. One dead turtle the service was provided will be sent this week to a wildlife veterinarian for examination."

The same release detailed the DENR's latest water quality sampling plan. They have started sampling water quality at the upper end of the John H. Kerr Reservoir in Virginia, it said, in response to the coal ash spill in Eden. It's one of five water sampling sites at which DENR is now testing.

"This is unchartered territory," Edwards said of the spill. "We've never dealt with something like this on the Dan River."

She was at a legislative meeting in Raleigh Monday which partially addressed the coal ash spill. She said Duke Energy and DENR officials spoke about the timeline of the spill and notification of the public.

But, she said, the plan for cleanup is still unclear. "I think there are a lot of unanswered questions on what’s next. I certainly did not walk away with a clear picture of what’s next, and who’s in charge and how that is going to unfold."

Lawson worries his pictures could just be the beginning. "A turtle’s tough. A turtle is a tough animal. If it’s killing the turtles?" he questioned, shaking his head. "It means there’s something bad coming in the long run. That’s just the first of it."


  • Diane Purcell

    Duke needs to pay for not just the cleanup, of course, but restitution to the environment of all the wildlife effected by this. Large corporations need to suffer where it hurts – the wallet – and not pass the cost onto us. This is very very sad to see

    • Bigjohn

      Duke will pay nothing even if they are fined. Don’t be a fool and think for one minute that the corporation who helped put McCrory in as governor will have a pay one red cent. They already have things all worked out. Even if they are fined they will just raise our rates to pay for it so you are asking for us to pay the fine.

  • Steve quinn

    That spill in Tennessee is still being cleaned up and it was something like six years ago and not as big as the spill on the dan river. I get the feeling that our state government is adopting a wait and see attitude before major action is done to clean up this spill. As for duke power paying for the clean up and not passing the cost along to customers, well our esteemed governor is a former duke energy employee and duke energy
    is a major contributor to his campaign, so might as well budget a rate increase that will pass through approval much quicker then a plan to deal with this mess.

  • (Jesus H. Christ)

    The deaths of 2 turtles does not mean that the Dan River will die and or anything that comes into contact with it. These Knee Jerk actions of pay somebody now does not and will not ever stop an accident from happening.

    As far as Diane Purcell wanting Duke to make restitution to the wildlife just who does Duke make the check out to, Hoot B. Owl or Frankie Fish.

    For me I lived most of my life in coal country drinking from fresh water springs that came out of abandoned coal mines and playing on slate and ash dumps as a child. The ash is not a problem, it’s the politics that will kill the Dan.

    • Diane Purcell

      True that politics hurt the Dan River – but I was just thinking it would a good-faith effort for Duke to perhaps make a sizeable donation to a project that cares for wildlife effected by spills and such, or some sanctuary project. It would show they cared and have them part with a chunk of money. Considering how many customers are increasingly upset with the repetitive increases in Duke’s power bills and constant requests for more, it might help their public relations.

  • me

    Why are they still TALKING about it?!!! The effects are worsening everyday! They need to get off of their high horses and clean up their mess!!!!!

  • FaithC

    Duke needs to clean the river up, and hope the eco system can be restored. It is that easy. Why is there debate about it? Bring in some wildlife experts that have nothing to do with the state of NC, or Duke Power at Duke’s expense and make Duke Power do what the experts say needs to be done.

    • Willie Wonka

      Thats it?! From what I know his mother was white. Unless that’s changed I don’t get the correlation. Did she mine coal? Would you like a do-over Tommy? Add a punchline and try to make a coherent connection to Obamas mother and coal burning this time. Ill check back in an hour.

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