Supplied photo courtesy of Alan Cradick/Cape Fear River Watch
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority will permanently decommission two wells in northwest New Hanover County and contribute $472,000 for construction of a new drinking water line due to concern about future contamination by Duke Energy’s Sutton Power Plant.
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority board has voted to forgo the utility’s rights to drinking water in 11,000 acres of land in the industrial northwest corner of New Hanover County. It will also commit the utility authority to $472,000 for a new drinking water line in northwest Wilmington. Both decisions were reached during a meeting last week.
The utility authority has been working with Duke Energy since June to address a contamination plume spreading from unlined coal ash ponds near the Sutton Power Plant on the Cape Fear River. CFPUA spokesman Mike McGill said the energy company’s groundwater monitoring data, obtained from monitoring wells located near the border of the ash ponds, show that toxic chemicals are spreading through the groundwater toward two drinking wells operated by the utility authority for the nearby Flemington community.
“It’s moving toward our wells at a certain rate that, maybe it’s not immediate concern, but certainly long term it’s something that there’s a potential concern for,” McGill said in an Oct. 9 interview. “We sent a letter to Duke on Aug. 3 asking for more monitoring wells in the area. They came back to us at the end of August with [a proposal for additional] monitoring wells and the pipeline concept.”
Those negotiations ultimately resulted in an agreement between CFPUA and Duke to construct a pipeline under the Cape Fear River and along N.C. Highway 421, which will redirect water from the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant to Flemington.
Senior Attorney Frank Holleman with the Southern Environmental Law Center and Cape Fear River Watch Executive Director Kemp Burdette condemned the agreement during the public information portion of the Oct. 9 meeting. They pointed to Section V of the agreement, which precludes the authority from placing any wells on the roughly 17 square miles bordered by the Cape Fear River to the west, the Northeast Cape Fear River to the east and the county line to the north. The two wells currently in operation on that land would be permanently decommissioned.
Several members of the board expressed discomfort with the provision, including New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Woody White, who held up discussions until the final sentence of Section V, which required that “this provision shall forever survive the termination or expiration of this Agreement” was taken out.
After less than an hour of discussion the board unanimously authorized interim executive director Jim Flechtner to negotiate with Duke Energy to find a fix agreeable to both parties, then execute the agreement.
Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said in an Oct. 15 interview that the company proposed Section V in the agreement because the boundary was “easily delineated.”
“What we wanted to prevent was the possibility that future community wells could be installed in the area that could be subject to future and potential water quality issues,” Culbert said. “There could be a possibility in the future for groundwater influences from the ash basin to migrate in that direction. And the reason we took this proactive step was to make sure that didn’t happen in the future.”
Holleman, however, said Duke was bullying the CFPUA. White said the company could very well pull the offer and force the utility authority to foot the entire $2.25 million bill itself.
“While we can’t get it exactly perfect … I think we’ve got the best deal we’re going to see,” Rivenbark said.
As the deal currently stands, CFPUA will pay half of the monitoring wells’ installation, half of any water line fees over $1.5 million, and the cost of upgrading the line from Duke’s proposed 8-inch main to a 12 inch, which would enable the CFPUA to expand service to future residential, commercial and industrial interests in the area.
“It’s a shame that Duke, an extremely rich corporation, would try to muscle the local utility authority and its local ratepayers in this negotiation to try to force them to pay $400,000, which is Duke’s responsibility,” Holleman said in an Oct. 9 interview. “And the board members are struggling with the fact that it’s not fair, but what can they do if Duke insists on it.”