For a moment, with the help of an October breeze, rays of sunlight
dance across the endless wall of spruces and pines that guards the Neuse
River from the wildlife stirring beyond the riverbank — revealing, in all
of its burnt orange, maroon, and yellow glory, the dawn of an eastern
North Carolina fall. A blue jay, having taken notice of the motorboat
making its way toward the H.F. Lee Power Plant, decides to give the man
behind the wheel a run for his money. Downstream, a fish jumps out of
A few hundred yards from this idyllic scene, however, poison
lurks — arsenic and cancer-causing heavy metals that have, yet again, been
documented by environmentalists who, just days ago, took water samples
that sounded alarm bells. And when the vessel slows near the bank that
conceals 170 acres of inactive Duke Energy coal ash ponds and the active
pond not too far down the river, the toxins reveal themselves.
Autumn seems to disappear. The trees resemble a winter landscape, one
you might expect to see the morning after a heavy snow. The colors that
left you breathless upstream are blanketed in a thick off-white
powder — one so toxic that two men who have made protecting the Neuse
their respective life’s work warn you against touching.
It’s been more than two years since a catastrophic coal ash spill
into the Dan River led to three Duke Energy subsidiaries pleading guilty
to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act. The company was
fined $68 million, ordered to pay another $24 million to the National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and told to give $10 million to a wetlands
mitigation bank to offset the long-term environmental impact of the
coal ash basins.
But much of Duke’s 108 million tons of ash, currently housed in pits
ordered closed and excavated, remained as of a few weeks ago, as the
court-ordered cleanup moves at a crawl. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Hurricane Matthew flooded the H.F. Lee pits in Goldsboro, polluting the
Neuse and, as a result of an unprecedented rise in the river, caking
with poison trees that have stood longer than any person currently
inhabiting the earth.
“I mean, look up. You’re talking a good eight feet,” says Pete
Harrison, an attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a watchdog group
that uncovered toxic seepage from the H.F. Lee ponds in 2014. “[Duke]
said it’s not coal ash, it’s cenospheres. That’s like saying, ‘That’s
not a dog, it’s a Labrador.’”
While the group contends the chalky substance caking the trees is, in
fact, coal ash, cenospheres — a byproduct of coal combustion — are bad
enough; if inhaled, they can cause respiratory damage.
Photographic and video documentation of the spill site provided by
the alliance tells a story beyond the one in which a fall landscape was
converted into a Tim Burton-esque winter wonderland. But proof of a
one-inch-thick layer of coal ash choking the water’s surface was
dismissed by Duke officials, who accused the alliance of using scare
tactics to inflame the public.
“The state team that inspected the facility determined that the
amount of material that was displaced would not even fill the bed of an
average pickup truck,” according to a statement released by Duke.
Harrison doesn’t buy the company’s denial. “You’re talking about a
million tons of coal ash” in the inactive ponds submerged by the
floodwaters, he notes. And what the alliance found on the river’s
surface doesn’t include the ash in the trees or toxins that likely have
sunk from view.
“It’s heavy metals. They are carcinogens,” says Upper Neuse
riverkeeper Matthew Starr. “The level of arsenic in the groundwater
monitoring well on this site is the highest of any of their coal ash
sites around the state. It’s sixty times the allowable limit of arsenic
in that groundwater. Coal ash is heavily toxic. That’s why they are
being required to remove the coal ash at eight of their facilities.
That’s why they pled guilty during a federal investigation.”
He lays the blame for this environmental disaster squarely on Duke.
“The pits are just not in the right place, and this ash is in unlined
pits on the bank of rivers,” he says. “The H.F. Lee pits are in the
floodway, in the flood zone. We saw it flood in '99, so it’s just not a
good place to store your coal ash. And the fix is in on this. They are
going to have to fully excavate this coal ash and get it away from
surface water in a lined facility. I don’t want to undermine the sheer
magnitude of the amount of coal ash that’s in our state, but they can’t
do it fast enough. The sooner the better.”
The McCrory administration has been
notably friendly to Duke, a company that has, through its subsidiaries,
donated $330,000 to the Republican Governors Association in this
election cycle alone. (The RGA spent $5 million to help elect Governor
McCrory four years ago and has spent millions more so far this year.)
McCrory, of course, was a Duke executive for nearly three decades before
taking up residence in the Executive Mansion.
After the 2014 Dan River spill, McCrory’s Department of Environment
and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality)
fined Duke $25 million for “daily penalties dating back to 2012 for
pollution violations." Later, though, it reduced that figure to $6.6
million, a move that outraged environmentalists. And even after Duke
pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act, Harrison points out,
the administration had its back: "The state’s attorney objected,”
Harrison says. “He stood up in the courtroom after Duke admitted they
had committed a crime and objected.”
More recently, in August, state epidemiologist Megan Davies resigned
because, in her view, the McCrory administration “deliberately” lied
about how standards were drafted to test private wells near Duke’s power
plants. Davies, in a sworn deposition, said state officials pressured
scientists to relax testing for the carcinogenic hexavalent chromium. At
the time, McCrory’s office denied involvement. And the N.C. Department
of Health and Human Services issued a statement vowing that “throughout
this process, we’ve provided full information to homeowners about the
safety of their drinking water and have taken appropriate steps to
reassure citizens who have been unduly alarmed.”
In sworn testimony, however, state toxicologist Kenneth Rudo said
this was a lie. He claimed that the DEQ asked that language be added to
the letter sent to homeowners saying the water met federal standards.
Here’s the rub: that was only true because the U.S. has no standard for
McCrory has contended ever since that he and his administration had
nothing to do with it. But last week saw the release of yet another
deposition — this one, from DHHS communications director Kendra Gerlach,
who testified that the language came from “the Capitol.”
“I received a fax with a sentence to be included,” Gerlach said
during the deposition. “It came from the communications office, but I
don’t know the individual.”
It’s likely that somewhere along the
Neuse, at this very moment, Harrison and Starr are in a boat, racing
blue jays down the river until they reach the ash-covered banks and
trees that guard the H.F Lee plant’s inactive coal ash ponds from public
scrutiny. But continuing to test the water for toxicity — and releasing
their findings to media outlets — is the only way, they say, to keep
pressure on Duke officials who have not lived up to their pledge to
excavate the ash.
“It’s a public waterway. The public deserves to know what’s going
on,” Starr says. “I want our water to be clean. I want it to be
fishable, swimmable, and drinkable for me, for you, for your children,
for the farmers and their children. I want the river to be clean for
And he wants the legislature to put into place regulations to protect
rivers like the Neuse against industrial and agricultural waste. “The
longer it takes to either put back commonsense regulations on the books
or to keep them on the books, the more polluted our water becomes — the
more expensive and harder it becomes to get it back to a healthy place,”
Make no mistake, he adds. This is not simply an eastern North
Carolina problem. It affects every man, woman, and child in the state.
“This should matter to all North Carolinians because our rivers
belong to all of us and it’s our legacy,” he says. “The rivers will be
here long after we are gone, so it’s imperative that we protect them for
our children and our children’s children. If we can’t hold industry
accountable, it creates a very slippery slope.”
McCrory & Duke Energy covering up coal ash pollution? I’m shocked, shocked, I say.
The depressing thing about posting and finishing a long WIP is, after the rush the first couple of days (which is very gratifying!), it ends. A couple people that have it bookmarked or find it somehow will trickle in over time, like any other ‘old’ fic, but once it’s over, it dwindles, falling back page after page, until nobody can find it, unless you post something new and the reader happens to poke around in your old stuff. It feels like going on vacation - you have a great time for a week then you’re back home and in no time at all, it’s like you never left.
which I suppose is good, in a way, since it urges me to publish something else, but it’s also a bit of a bummer that a year’s worth of work just poofs. Not a surprise, no, just kind of going cold turkey off the high, I guess.
anyway. back to work on Ice Demon/Cap for Marvel Bang. Even if I’m tempted to write something short just to post something this week
Sailors and Marines assigned to Joint Task Force (JTF) Matthew load and
deliver food to villages in Haiti. The deliveries are made by an MH-60S
Sea Hawk helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28
(HSC-28). JTF Matthew is providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid
to Haiti following Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Navy video by Petty Officer
2nd Class Hunter S. Harwell/Released)
Once again, DO NOT donate to the huge scam aka Red Cross to support relief/humanitarian efforts of Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. We all remember what the Red Cross did with the $500 million it received to build houses after the earthquake in Haiti back in 2010.
Haitian-led orgs you can contribute to directly for relief efforts: Konbit Mizik, Haiti Communitere, ACFFC, Sakala Haiti, SOIL, Fondation Aquin Solidarité , Volontariat pour le Développement d'Haïti, Lambi Fund, MADRE, Sowaseed, Konbit Solèy Leve, Sakala
Non-Haitian Orgs with proven track records in Haiti: Doctors without Borders, Roots of Development, Partners in Health, Border of Lights, Nova Hope for Haiti
PSA for those on the Coast: BE SAFE, and BE SMART!
This one is going to be a gnarly one. It’s not expected to make landfall, but ride the coast all the way up. This means it probably won’t reduce in strength like most storms do. Mother Nature is a terrifying force and sometimes we cannot stand against her.
If you are in Evacuation Zones please heed warnings and the advice of Emergency Responders. If demanded to evacuate, please comply. Things can be replaced, you can’t.
The National Guard has been mobilized, but not evacuating when you should puts their lives at risk as well as yours.
To those outside the danger zones, but still in the path- Hunker down. Make sure you have:
pull in all outside decor/furniture not cemented down (they’ll become projectiles).
Your Bathtub filled with water in case they shut off the city water
FIrst Aid supplies, benedryl, epipen, bandages, antiseptic, etc
Duct Tape (You never know what this stuff is good for)
An emergency plan should you get separated from family (keep in mind cell towers may be out)