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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

My thoughts

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The month of April’s name is derived from the Latin verb aperio, which means to open. How appropriate this seems the first week of April, as all the flower and tree buds and blooms are poised to burst open any moment.

Everywhere we turn these days, there are detriments to protecting the environment so many of us treasure as the Gift from Above that it is.

This week’s news has headlines about sand renourisment planned for Wrightsville Beach this spring being delayed due to a dearth of the dredges that can do the work; delaying the project endangers not only nesting sea turtles, but a delayed renourishment on the south end of Wrightsville stands to wipe out the fabulous south end bird habitat.

Nesting birds of all kinds are already here. Martins arrived last weekend following an earlier trip by scouts checking to see if the flock could return to last year’s nesting sites. Oystercatchers were photographed on the south end habitat this week. A least tern was spotted on Friday, March 28; and it is a safe bet the rest of the flocks are on the way.

Another environmental endangerment story in the news this week is the Surfrider Foundation’s push to ban the use of plastic shopping bags. It set this campaign aside several years ago to go after cigarette butts (also a plastic) on the beach, successfully winning in a fight to ban smoking on the beach strand.

Two issues nudge me to join them. Last week photographer Allison Potter and I attempted to take photos of one of the state’s beloved rivers. In all the shots we attempted on the river bank we saw garbage, bottles or plastic shopping bags hanging from the low-hanging tree branches.

The plastic shopping bag used in big box retail and grocery chains is a scourge on our quality of life. There is no excuse for these to remain in use, except greed.

Candidates for local county commission, almost all 12 of them, are quoted exposing environmental safety sentiments this week.

Rob Zapple says growth must be carefully directed and that the county needs to attract clean industries with a focus on innovative technologies … and take a good, hard look around and decide what kind of place we want to live in.

Fellow candidate Dr. Derrick Hickey agrees that potential consequences of growth opportunities should be considered. He says we can’t risk damaging the beaches, the river, the things that make people want to come live here.

But is this just vote-for-me rhetoric? A good question for potential candidates this year is my other big irritation to the point of illness: the huge Dan River Coal Ash spill in Eden, N.C., on Feb. 2.

When coal is converted to fuel during combustion, the resulting waste is known as coal ash. It contains toxic chemicals including lead, mercury, arsenic and selenium. Power plants are regulated for coal ash disposal. North Carolina has 14 facilities pumping coal ash into ponds, (not unlike hog or dairy waste ponds). They have 31 coal ash ponds in the state, in different levels of use. All of them sit right next to a river or lake; and all of them are documented as leaking.

A question from me to all candidates this year would be how they would have responded to the catastrophic Dan River Coal Ash spill which lined 70 miles of river bank in toxic sludge had it happened on the Cape Fear River in New Hanover County?

Immediately following the Feb. 2 spill from a collapsed 50-year-old pipe, came another discharge into the Dan River. Then days later DENR cited Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, (NYSE: DUK), with violations at five additional facilities. With its monopoly, all 14 facilities in the state are Duke’s and each has multiple coal ash ponds. The five additional facilities receiving notices of violation include the Sutton Steam Electric Plant on the Northeast Cape Fear River in New Hanover County, which has two coal ash ponds, covering 142 acres.

The Dan River spill dumped 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24,000 more of contaminated water into the Dan.

A list of Duke Energy’s North Carolina violations on the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources site, include 44 million gallons of illegal discharge in a 78-day period September to March 14, 2014.

In the news this week is the story of how Kemp Burdette, Riverkeeper with Cape Fear River Watch, went on a discovery mission to Duke Energy’s Cape Fear Power Plant on March 10. The plant is upstream of Sanford, Dunn, Fayetteville and Wilmington.

He went suspecting he would find wastewater seeping out of a high-hazard earthen dam. But what he says he found were Duke employees, illegally pumping wastewater from coal ash basins into a tributary of the Cape Fear River and he has photographs to prove his case. The Waterkeeper Alliance were conducting an airplane flyover of the ash impoundments at the Duke Energy Cape Fear Plant, Moncure, Chatham County. Photographs show Duke personnel using a portable water pump to empty its 1985 coal ash pond.

Isolated illegal activity you say? Far from it.

The pictures resulted in the eighth notice of violation the state has issued against Duke in less than a month.

Accusations fly that state regulators are too cozy with Duke Energy.

It doesn’t help that Duke Energy, reporting $24.6 billion in total revenues for 2013, is the former employer (30 years), of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. He is reported as still holding stock in Duke, the nation’s largest electric utility.

A published analysis by Democracy North Carolina states McCrory received more than $300,000 in direct campaign contributions from Duke Energy-related donors during his 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial races. The Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $10 million supporting McCrory’s bid, also received around $760,000 from Duke.

So the question hangs in the air, has our environment been sacrificed to the gods of greed and power? Will Duke be allowed to continue to plunder the environment with little consideration other than immediate enrichment?

Which of our local commission candidates will be on hand with the other eager elected officials to press the willing flesh when Duke celebrates the dedication of the new L.V. Sutton Energy Complex in Wilmington on April 22?

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