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RALEIGH, N.C. — State law requires the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to release final proposed risk classifications of coal ash sites in North Carolina by this Wednesday, said Crystal Feldman. Feldman is the Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs for N.C. DEQ.

The classifications will help define the urgency and type of cleanup at Duke Energy coal ash sites.

In a preliminary report released at the end of last year, DEQ labeled four of the fourteen sites as “high risk,” including the Dan River location where there was a coal ash spill in 2014.

Coal ash at high-risk impoundments must be excavated, removed and safely stored by Dec. 31, 2019. Coal ash at intermediate-risk impoundments by must be excavated, removed and safely stored by Dec. 31, 2024.

Coal ash storage at low-risk sites must be closed by Dec. 31, 2029. DEQ said methods of closure for low-risk impoundments could vary. Excavation won’t be required. The state compared the definition to federal coal ash regulation that allows for “equally protective, less costly options.”

And it’s those low-risk requirements that worry some advocates at sites in Rowan and Stokes counties.

“People want to see it cleaned up. We’ve seen people upstream and downstream concerned about this issue. They don’t want this threat to be there next to the river long-term,” explained Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott.

He often works with people who live near the Buck Steam station in Rowan County. “They just want to see it taken out and moved away to somewhere safe where it doesn’t potentially pollute the water where a lot of people drink from.”

Caroline Armijo is an advocate for the Belews Lake community where she grew up. “We want all of the sites to be [labeled] high risk,” she insisted. “This is a rare opportunity to do coal ash cleanup the right way.”

Armijo worries capping coal ash in place could pollute the water table or lead to another spill. “The local communities are bearing the brunt of this but it’s really a widespread problem. I believe the toxicity has a broad reach,” she added.

DEQ’s Assistant Secretary for the Environment Tom Reeder explained the different risk classifications and how the state determines them in a video posted online.

At the end of the video, Reeder said in part, “Our work is far from over. We will continue to devote significant resources to ensure that coal ash is properly stored in a manner that best protects the environment and public health.���

DEQ also said in a list of Frequently Asked Questions, “The NC Utilities Commission Public Staff estimated that the total cost of cleanup will be between $2-10 billion depending on the method of closure for each impoundment. Duke has publicly stated that it plans to pass the cost of cleanup on to ratepayers, which would drive up your electricity bill.”

Armijo doesn’t believe landfills are the best long-term solution for coal ash, either. “It’s time to come up with a better solution besides landfills. Even though that is the standard for cleanup, it’s still not a very good standard. And just capping it in place is definitely not a good standard.”

She hopes advocates, experts, Duke Energy and the state work together to come up with long-term solutions of coal ash use and storage. “It’s going to take a lot of effort to clean it up, but I believe that’s just want we have to do. This is the time to do it.”