Duke Energy has been adding a new cap to a previous coal ash fill at Asheville Regional Airport as part of a settlement with the state. The work, seen here Nov. 23, is visible from I-26, in the foreground. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: At the airport, what are they doing with that massive construction area on the airport’s property right up next to the interstate?

My answer: This will be a containment area for vehicles damaged in the long-running and ongoing I-26 Demolition Derby. No, it’s not big enough.

Real answer: First of all, this is more of a Duke Energy project than an airport one.

“The earthwork that is visible from I-26 is being conducted by Duke Energy,” Asheville Regional Airport spokesperson Tina Kinsey said via email. “They maintain an area of airport property where coal ash is stored, and they are working on improving that area.”

As you may recall, Duke Energy brought an enormous amount of coal ash to the airport in recent years, with a liner and cap system. The material provided the airport with a lot more level area to build on, and it offered a solution for Duke to remove coal ash from storage areas at its Lake Julian power plant, which switched from coal burning to natural gas in early 2020.

“The work at the airport consists of putting a final cap on an 18-acre structural fill completed at the site over a decade ago,” Duke Energy spokesperson Bill Norton said via email. “No new ash is going to the airport – we completed ash excavation at our retired Asheville coal plant in June, and all ash has been safely and permanently landfilled or recycled.”

The site work is visible from I-26 as you travel eastbound.

“The structural fill in question was originally designed to be covered by future airport construction, in addition to the soil cap that it has had in the interim,” Norton said. “When the airport’s plans changed, we worked with the airport on a permanent solution that has been approved by state regulators.”

The cap, seen here in mid-December from I-26, is designed to prevent leakage from a large coal ash fill at Asheville Regional Airport. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

The cap, seen here in mid-December from I-26, is designed to prevent leakage from a large coal ash fill at Asheville Regional Airport.

I reached out to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Waste Management about the work, as well.

“Duke is adding a geomembrane cap to the structural fill as a measure to further protect the environment,” spokesperson Melody Foote said via email.

She also provided a link to all of the department’s solid waste files pertaining to the site.

“Of note in the link, there is a legal settlement that you may find helpful in answering your questions,” Foote said.

To which I say, Aha! 

Seriously, it looks like this goes back to an Oct. 5, 2020 agreement. The parties to the agreement are Duke Energy Progress LLC, the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority and the N.C. DEQ.

The agreement notes that in February 2016 Duke and the airport “entered into an agreement regarding the structural fills.”

It’s worth noting that during the coal ash transfer and fill process, local environmentalists raised concerns about all the coal ash going in at the airport, particularly the prospect of long term leaching into the French Broad River, near the airport’s southern border. Coal ash, the remains of burning coal for power production, can contain a number of pollutants, including heavy metals.

This fill, where the work is ongoing, is on the other end of the airport, away from the French Broad.

The agreement notes the DEQ’s Division of Water Resources issued a violation notice in November 2017, followed by a “continuing notice of violation” in April 2018 to Duke and the airport for “discharge from the Area 1 structural fill.”

The settlement states the parties entered into a “term sheet” in September 2020 “reflecting their intent to resolve certain disputed issues between and among them, including notices of violations.”

The agreement goes on to detail exactly what work needed to be done, including an engineered cap for Area 1, a monitoring plan, and ongoing operation and maintenance. It also requires the airport to “obtain liability insurance coverage,” naming Duke Energy as an additional insured party, “with a per occurrence policy limit of at least $3.5 million and an aggregate limit for the 10-year policy period of at least $15 million for Area 1 to satisfy any corrective action required by DEQ and any potential liability with respect thereto.”

The airport has to make a “good faith effort” to maintain the insurance for a period of at least 30 years. The agreement also states that if liability or corrective actions exceed insurance policy limits, Duke Energy “shall pay the cost” above that amount.

The state agreement also says that if, after three years of testing, discharges are occurring from Area 1, Duke will have to propose additional measures for state approval to address the discharges. 

Additionally, the airport will keep the state and Duke “apprised of any development within Area 1 that has the potential to alter the operation of the approved cap…”

Norton allowed, “There was a difference of opinion on who was responsible for capping the area after the airport’s plans changed.”

“We came to a constructive agreement supported by all parties, and the matter is resolved,” Norton said.

He also provided details on the cap that’s going in place now.

“That permanent cap consists of a multi-layer, impermeable liner across the entire structural fill – the same multi-layer liner system approved for our ash landfill,” Norton said. “Liner construction is now complete – it is currently being topped by several feet of soil, which will be finished in the coming months, and then planted with native grasses in the spring.”

Norton said the coal ash in place remained undisturbed during the work.

“The fill has always had a liner underneath to protect groundwater, and monitoring wells surrounding the site demonstrate that the public and environment continue to remain safe from ash impacts,” Norton said.

Question: As something of a follow-up to your recent piece about the cutting of trees at the golf course, we used to have signs at various points around town proclaiming Asheville to be “Tree City.” I remember one in particular just north of Beaver Lake. I haven’t seen these signs in a long while and wonder why and or who decided to take them down, and if someone officially declared that we are no longer “Tree City.”

My answer: Once this whole “See Tree City” campaign kind of flopped, I guess everybody just threw in the towel.

Real answer: No great mystery or sad loss of tree designation to see here, folks.

“Signs get stolen. That’s it, really,” city of Asheville arborist Mark Foster said via email. “But I’ve got some spares in my office, and can work with the fellas in our Signs and Markings section of the Transportation Department to get those posted.”

Rest assured Asheville still loves its trees.

“We’re still a ‘Tree City,’ so there’s no need to worry,” Foster said. “This year is our 43rd holding that designation.”

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or (828) 337-0941.

2 replies on “More coal ash work going on at the airport? ‘Tree city’ designation MIA?

  1. At the rate of destroying vast habitat areas by removing dozens of acres of trees in South Asheville it’s blatantly obvious why the less privileged part of Asheville is not considered “tree city”. In fact, it’s a farce; a sad one at that, because hundreds of people have been moving here and with the progress of the area the beauty of South Asheville and its character has been rapidly disappearing. I was born and raised here and lived around the USA and in my senior years coming back home only to raise my son in asphalt and ugly apartment buildings. It’s a sad commentary of how these outsiders contribute to the destruction of our wooded areas/habitats without blinking an eye. One must have privilege and wealth in order to enjoy a natural environment with trees.

  2. Yesterday, 12/28/2022 at 5:30am when it was dark, going east from Long Shoals Rd exit 37 on I26 , I noticed a large cloud spewing from the left side (not the airport side) of the highway. It was still there 20 minutes later on my way back to exit 37. What is causing the infiltration into the air? Is it dangerous?

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