Duke Energy to ship industrial waste from massive NC spill to Georgia

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HOMER, Ga. (WGCL) — After being hit with more than $100 million worth of penalties for polluting the environment, Duke Energy is sending their coal ash from North and South Carolina to Georgia.

“They’ve already contaminated all their land, so they had to put it somewhere, and I don’t want it to be here,” said Pam Hardigree.

She and Margaret Gaddis are Banks County residents who oppose the plan to bring 1.4 million tons of coal ash to their town.

Duke Energy spokesperson Erin Culbert said coal ash has levels of harmful elements similar to what may be found in some types of soil and solid municipal waste.

Culbert explains that Banks County will not experience the same issues that occurred in North Carolina because this landfill will ship and store the coal ash in a way that meets regulations.

Hundreds of trucks will ship industrial waste to the landfill on Bennett Road outside of Homer over the next two years. It will be buried in a specially designated place for which Waste Management obtained a state permit.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division classifies coal ash as a non-hazardous material.

Gaddis said she doesn’t buy the explanation that there is nothing to worry about. She said her grandfather was a coal miner, and because of the way he died, she is skeptical about the safety of any coal bi-product.

“He died from black lung disease, as did many of the people who worked with him. So they say it’s not hazardous, but it is,” said Gaddis.

Sue Elrob and her family live a stone’s throw from the landfill’s entrance. It’s a privately owned site that accepts trash from the public.

She could tell by the increased truck traffic that something big was happening across the street. Now that she knows what’s coming, she’s talking about moving.

“I just don’t want it in the ground, period. I have grandchildren who live here, really close, so I prefer it not be here,” said Elrob.

Banks County Commissioner Jimmy Hooper said he is confident that these materials will be disposed of properly.

But because the landfill is owned by Waste Management, Hooper said he’s not sure there is anything the commission could do to stop the project even if he did have a problem with it.

He said the county receives $1.85 for every ton of waste that comes to the landfill, and there is no extra charge for coal ash versus regular household garbage.

Waste Management said their plan is to isolate the substance so that it does not mix with ground water.

Culbert said the threat of environmental contamination from an overturned truck along the route is low as long as it is cleaned up properly. This is because the harmful effects of coal ash do not occur unless it is exposed to a ground water over a long period of time.

Marla Prince, spokesperson for Waste Management, sent the following written statement about the project:

“The ash is being disposed in an encapsulated liner in a separate designated cell. Coal ash is not a hazardous waste, nor is it “toxic.” While coal ash contains very low levels of trace elements, many common products we use every day do as well. In fact, the levels are similar to what you find in soil and municipal solid waste.

“Both Waste Management and Duke Energy are committed to the health, safety and welfare of employees, contractors and the public and to protecting the environment and natural resources. All safety, environmental and health best practices are in place and being implemented during the project.”

Prince said the coal ash is going to their landfill in rural Banks County, not because of its low population, but because it is their closest location to the origin of the waste in Anderson, South Carolina.