Rockingham County Property Owners Reach Settlement with Duke Energy on Dan River Coal Ash Spill

DENR Sec. Skvarla (l.) visits the Dan River spill site. Photo dated February 7, 2014. Source: NC DEQ.
DENR Sec. Skvarla (l.) visits the Dan River spill site. Photo dated February 7, 2014. Source: NC DEQ.

A group of 33 property owners on the Dan River in Rockingham County, North Carolina on March 6, 2019 agreed to settle a lawsuit with Duke Energy for damages they suffered from one of the worst environmental disasters in NC history.

The settlement was announced by Raleigh attorney Bryan Brice of the Law Offices of Bryan Brice. Terms were not disclosed.

The settlement comes five years after a catastrophic spill began from a coal ash holding pond at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station near Eden, NC.

The spill began on February 2, 2014 and continued for several days, ultimately pouring more than 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of toxic pond water into the river.

It coated riverbanks with a thick gray sludge and covered the river bottom with ash as far as 70 miles downstream.

Coal ash — the byproduct of burning coal — contains elements of arsenic, hexavalent chromium, selenium and vanadium, and other toxic constituents.

Elevated levels of these chemicals were found in the river following the spill in violation of federal regulations, Brice said. For example, the spill dumped more than 3,500 pounds of arsenic into the river; a release of only one pound is enough to trigger a violation, Brice said. He stated:

“The despoliation of the Dan River as a result of Duke’s negligence caused significant hardship for these 33 individuals and their families. It was a tragedy that should never have occurred.

“On the fifth anniversary of the spill, we have finally arrived at what we believe is a fair conclusion to compensate these families for the diminution of their property values and for the loss of their use and enjoyment that resulted from this spill.

“This settlement also puts Duke Energy on notice to act responsibly to protect the environment and take all necessary steps to ensure that these types of incidents do not occur again.

“There are many other coal ash ponds in our state and across the country where proper closure and removal of coal ash must occur to protect all downstream property owners and the rivers upon which they live.”

Duke Energy converted the Dan River Steam Station plant from coal to natural gas in 2012 and ultimately demolished it in 2016.

The intensely personal impacts of the spill are detailed in the complaint and depositions from the property owners involved in the lawsuit.

Wanda Overby described how she and her family used to take her grandson to the river almost every day. That all ended in February 2014, she said, when the boy was nine years old. Said Overby:

“He used to love to play in the creek that runs through our land to the river. After the spill, we went down and saw the sludge. He’s 14 now and he’s only been in the creek one time since then, and he had to wear knee boots.

“I’m sad when I think of all the memories he’ll never have. That’s really the main thing that’s been taken from us.”

Rockingham County is located north of Greensboro, in the Piedmont region of the state.

 

Source: Bryan Brice

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