So much for being creative. After scrapping Duke Energy’s plan to move coal ash away from Charlotte’s drinking-water sources, the city came up an “out of the box” counterproposal that was met with questions and serious objections at a City Council committee meeting Wednesday.
Following the Dan River spill, which focused attention on coal ash containment ponds around North Carolina, Duke Energy proposed repurposing ash that sits near Mt. Island Lake into construction fill for Charlotte-International Airport. The city deemed the idea too risky for the health and integrity of the airport and has offered a counterproposal: swapping 140 acres Charlotte owns near the airport for land Duke owns near long-term parking. Using a company that specializes in transporting and repurposing coal ash, Duke Energy would presumably truck 4.7 million tons from near Mt. Island Lake and bury it.
By giving up ownership of the land — bordered by Wilkinson Boulevard, I-485 and the Northfolk Southern rail line — the city would theoretically free itself of liability should any problems from the coal ash arise in the future. (If the coal ash isn’t held in a proper liner, there is a possibility that some could seep into the ground, as is happening at containment ponds around the state. The airport property contains several streams, and the city admitted in its due diligence review that the potential to contaminate nearby wells required more investigation.) An attorney for Duke said the company is just beginning to review the proposal. He declined to offer a deadline.
Councilman and environment committee member David Howard was the first to object, chiming in with an anecdote about a pleasant experience he had at the airport. “It makes me want to put a ring of protection around the airport.” The city’s proposal would move coal ash too close for Howard’s comfort (so close, in fact, that about 40 of the 140 acres serve as a runway-protection zone). “I continue to think of how big the state of North Carolina is. There’s a lot of places this could go other than next to the most important asset that we have in both Carolinas.” The city reviewed other real estate options, and none are big enough to house a project of this magnitude.
Howard, a Democrat, reiterated the complaints of westside residents who feel dumped on enough. “If this goes forward, I hope there’s a lot of conversation with advocates and others with how they feel about this. There’s an environment justice conversation that needs to be had.” The city’s review of the project reports that Charah would use tarps to cover the trucks and polymers to be sprayed over the ash to minimize dust during the trips to and from Mt. Island Lake, a concern raised in previous environmental committee meetings.
Several councilmen wondered whether the land-swap was a beneficial real estate transaction, considering the land would be used to house coal ash, and whether the public would buy into the idea. “I think the perception that we incur a cost and taxpayers are paying to help bring about a solution on relocation in the context of a land-swap would be a hard sell,” Republican Councilman Ed Driggs said. A hard sell indeed. Even if 220 trips were made daily Monday through Friday, the project would take five years to complete.
The environment committee didn’t vote on the plan and instead directed city staff to present their findings — and reiterate Wednesday’s conversation — during a regular City Council meeting.