RALEIGH, NC (March 6, 2019) — A group of 33 property owners along the Dan River in Rockingham County today agreed to settle a lawsuit with Duke Energy for damages they suffered from one of the worst environmental disasters in North Carolina history. The settlement was announced by plaintiffs’ attorney Bryan Brice of the Law Offices of Bryan Brice in Raleigh. Terms were not disclosed.
The settlement comes almost five years to the day when a catastrophic spill began from a coal ash holding pond at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station near Eden, NC. The spill from a 48” corrugated metal pipe lying under the primary ash disposal basin began on February 2, 2014 and continued for several more days, ultimately pouring more than 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of toxic pond water into the river. Another 36” reinforced concrete pipe under the basin was found to be leaking elevated levels of arsenic on February 14th and was plugged a week later. It coated riverbanks with a thick gray sludge and covered the river bottom with ash for as far as 70 miles downstream.
Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal and 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. “The despoliation of the Dan River as a result of Duke’s negligence caused significant hardship for these 33 individuals and their families,” Brice said. “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,” he said.
“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,” he said. “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,” he said. Duke Energy converted the Dan River Steam Station plant from coal to natural gas in 2012 and ultimately demolished it in 2017. The intensely personal impacts of the spill are detailed in the Complaint and depositions from the property owners involved in the lawsuit.
Wanda Overby, for example, told of how she or one of 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. “He used to love to play in the creek that runs through our land to the river,” she said. “After the spill, we went down there 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,” she said. “That’s really the main thing that’s been taken from us.”
Mr. Brice ended by saying “No one was going to hold Duke Energy accountable for the impacts the coal ash spill had on these families living along the Dan River. Not DEQ not EPA; they had to do it for themselves and their families.”
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