Duke Energy Progress fined $25.1M for groundwater contamination at Sutton Plant

Duke Energy Progress fined $25.1M for groundwater contamination at Sutton Plant
Under state law, Duke Energy Progress has 30 days to respond to the fine and may choose to appeal it to the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. (Source: WECT)
Under state law, Duke Energy Progress has 30 days to respond to the fine and may choose to appeal it to the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. (Source: WECT)

RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources has fined Duke Energy Progress $25.1 million for groundwater contamination from coal ash at the Sutton Plant near Wilmington. This is the state's largest-ever penalty for environmental damages.

A spokesperson for the organization said this fine is part of an ongoing effort by this administration to deal with coal ash threats.

According to DENR, "the fine is based on the extent of impacts to groundwater, the characteristics of the constituents causing the impacts and the duration of the violations."

The calculation of the fine is based on a formula taken from state groundwater laws that allows fines to be assessed by multiplying the number of days of the contamination by a civil penalty for each violation.

DENR determined that Duke Energy allowed a host of coal ash contaminants to leach into the groundwater at the sutton facility for several years.

State officials used data from water samples and multiplied the number of days each individual contaminant leached into groundwater.

In its news release the agency says Duke Energy allowed a host of coal ash contaminants to leech into the groundwater at the facility for several years. Specifically, state officials determined that Duke allowed Thallium, a pollutant considered to be a greater public health risk by DENR, to leech into the groundwater at the Sutton Plant for 1,668 days.

Thallium alone resulted in a fine of $8,340,000. Other pollutants found in the contaminated water that are considered to be a great public health risk carried heavier penalties.

"It is a very substantial impact," said van der Vaart when asked about the amount of the fine and the message it sends regarding the severity of the instance. "It's a large area. There was ongoing knowledge of this, so the fine, I think, is commensurate with the impact."

Violations at other Duke Energy facilities could result in additional fines.

"Today's enforcement action continues the aggressive approach this administration has taken on coal ash," said DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart. "In addition to holding the utility accountable for past contamination we have found across the state, we are also moving expeditiously to remove the threat to our waterways and groundwater from coal ash ponds statewide."

Proceeds from the fine will go to a statewide fund for public schools.

Under state law, Duke Energy Progress has 30 days to respond to the fine and may choose to appeal it to the N.C. Office of Administrate Hearings.

Duke Energy Progress released the following statement in response to the fine:

We are working quickly to close ash basins, including those at the Sutton Plant, which will help address impacts to groundwater. We hope DENR will move soon to provide the necessary approvals so we can begin moving ash at Sutton and other sites.

We have no indication of any off-site groundwater impacts that would pose a health concern for neighbors that have not already been addressed.

We have been monitoring groundwater at the Sutton Plant ash basins since 1990 and routinely report that data to state regulators. We're currently following a state-directed process to enhance groundwater assessments at our facilities. The information will add clarity to current data, inform closure decisions and help determine any future monitoring requirements.

We are currently reviewing the notice from DENR and will respond to the state.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority released the following statement concerning groundwater contamination near the Sutton Plant:

Nothing is more important to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority than providing safe and reliable drinking water to our customers. It is important to note – as this fine is announced - that there is not a current health risk to CFPUA's customers. Our testing data continues to show the drinking water wells remain in compliance with federal and state drinking water regulations.

While CFPUA is not a regulatory agency, for years our groundwater and water quality experts have closely monitored and documented the potential impact of groundwater contamination on our wells in the Flemington area. When we reviewed the data and found the potential for future water quality issues, we immediately reached an agreement with Duke Energy for additional monitoring wells on their property near the Sutton Plant. These wells provide vital information that helps ensure us we will receive plenty of warning before groundwater contamination could impact our wells.

Given the nature of our concerns, we also looked beyond the short term. We reached an agreement with Duke Energy to secure clean drinking water for the Flemington community for decades to come by constructing a pipeline to connect Flemington to CFPUA's central water system. We are currently in the middle of the bidding process for construction and the entire pipeline project will be completed in less than two years. Based on the locations and rates of motion for the contamination located in the area, it will be completed well before any contamination could impact the drinking water wells.


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