Stokes County residents fight Duke Energy Belews Creek wastewater permit

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DANBURY, N.C. -- Fifty or so people from Stokes County consider Tuesday night's public hearing their battleground, and what they are fighting for, their lifeline.

"Today we are meeting about flushing toxins into our river. The question is, why does Duke Energy get to do what no other manufacturing plant in America gets to do?" said William Sparks, of Hanging Rock.

Duke Energy needs a new permit for storm water at the Belews Creek Steam Station and to renew their current wastewater permit. Both allow the company to keep operating, but many in Stokes County say the permits will allow Duke Energy to pollute their water with heavy metals like arsenic and mercury.

"Making sure that the ash basin at Belews Creek Steam Station is closed properly and the continued safe operation of the plant is important to me, our employees and is important to Duke Energy," said Jimmy Flythe, with Duke Energy.

People are also worried that the new wastewater permit allows more seepage from the coal ash basin than the last and that water going into the Dan River and Belews Creek will have small levels of contaminants.

"What is happening now is not acceptable, things like arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals," said Kaylen Wall, from Rockingham County.

An engineer with the Department of Environmental Quality says the permit requires Duke Energy to treat water from the coal ash basin and any levels of heavy metals must meet EPA standards.

This explanation wasn't enough for the younger people in the crowd,

"When it comes to looking at my generation, I have a long life ahead of me and I don't want it to be contaminated by pollutants," said Mackenzie Craver, a 16-year-old from Rockingham County.