Hurricane Florence rains trigger possible coal ash spill into lake at Wilmington plant

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Historic rains from Hurricane Florence eroded a landfill, possibly letting coal ash reach Sutton Lake at the Sutton Power Plant in Wilmington, Duke Energy said Saturday night.

Sutton Lake is a cooling pond that was constructed to support plant operations, the company said in a news release. The 1,100 acre lake next to the banks of the Cape Fear River is a popular fishing destination.

A slope failure and erosion in part of the lined landfill displaced about 2,000 cubic yards of material, enough to fill about two-thirds of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, the release said. The majority of displaced ash was collected in a ditch and haul road that surrounds the landfill and is on plant property, the company said.

‘Coal ash is non-hazardous, and the company does not believe this incident poses a risk to public health or the environment,” the release said. The company is conducting environmental sampling as well.

Site personnel are managing the situation and will proceed with a full repair as weather conditions improve. Ash basins, which are being excavated, and the cooling pond continue to operate safely, the release said.

Duke Energy plans to close its seven North Carolina coal plants during the next 30 years, according to filings this month with state regulators, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Coal ash has been an issue for Duke Energy since a 2014 spill in North Carolina near the Virginia border, the newspaper reported. Since then, Duke has been seeking to close sites where it stores coal ash to comply with state law passed after the spill.