Members of a statewide coalition who have been advocating for years for proper cleanup and disposal of massive coal ash ponds around the state announced they boycotted a recent public meeting in Greensboro scheduled by the Department of Environmental Quality, and another scheduled in Roxboro. The citizens, part of the Alliance for Carolinians Together Against Coal Ash (ACT), said they feel the agency didn’t make a good-faith effort to inform them of the meetings.
In a letter sent to the DEQ, the coalition said it is “unacceptable that the agency failed to ensure that community members were aware of these important meetings.” Further, the meeting in Greensboro to address problems at the Belews Creek and Buck power plants is roughly an hour’s drive from the communities that are directly impacted.
“The people who are truly affected are older, they don’t have internet, they don’t get notices, there’s nothing on local TV about this hearing,” said Dukeville community member Deborah Graham. “We don’t have time to get directions or arrange childcare. It feels like they don’t want public input. They truly don’t want to hear from the people who are affected.”
DEQ is holding the meetings in response to a Special Order Consent as a result of citizen legal action against the agency. Duke Energy is moving its coal ash from the leaking, unlined lagoons at Buck; the ACT coalition is calling on the utility to undertake the same cleanup process to protect the Walnut Tree community at Belews Creek, the Roxboro community at Mayo, and the Semora community at Roxboro.
“We believe that as neighbors of Duke’s coal ash, we best understand the dangers to health, property, and the environment that the toxic waste poses and that we should be consulted during every step of the coal ash cleanup process in North Carolina,” the letter states.
Several layers into DEQ’s website is a page including public notices apparently signed on April 20 for the two meetings. None of the citizens and concerned groups who track these issues carefully saw the notices on the website until late last week. Community members say they received no emails or mailed letters from DEQ, despite the fact that the agency has their contact information, nor did they see any notices published in local papers.
In March, several concerned citizens met with DEQ officials about the state’s proposed coal ash rule; one of their concerns was inadequate noticing of a public comment meeting about the rule, said Ridge Graham, Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina Field Coordinator. “We asked them in person to give more notice, more time and more explanation for their actions. They agreed and understood where we were coming from, yet have not changed their actions in any meaningful way. DEQ is failing to serve and involve these impacted communities. Just because the letters were signed on April 20, 2018, doesn’t mean the community was made aware then.”
“Notice for this public meeting was issued with extremely inadequate communication, placing impacted communities at a disadvantage for submitting substantial comments on a historic event where massive accelerated wastewater discharge is going to be released into nearby waterways,” said Xavier Boatright, community organizer with Clean Water for North Carolina.
“It’s shameful DEQ made no accommodations to notify impacted community members so they can see what is going on in their community and voice their opinions and concerns moving forward,” said David Hairston, Walnut Cove resident and Belews Creek community leader.
“The core Belews Creek community members are away at a conference. It’s not enough time nor is it close enough to make arrangements to go to this meeting. I’m really disappointed that the meeting is not even in the community. Many of the impacted residents in Belews don’t use email,” said Caroline Armijo, former Stokes resident and Belews Creek community leader.
The ACT Coalition’s letter concludes with the following request: “We ask you to … require Duke Energy to get its coal ash out of the leaking, unlined lagoons and into dry, lined landfill storage or recycling at Belews Creek, Buck Steam Station, Mayo Steam Station, and Roxboro Steam Station.”