Special to the Mirror by Chas Cornweller
So, the lasting effects of Hurricane Florence and its devastation on the ecology of North Carolina is now just beginning. I am speaking of the double whammy of coal ash and hog lagoons toxic waste spillage into the Cape Fear River basin. The citizens of North Carolina worst nightmare of ecological responsibility and environmental cleanup. And, alas, it is the citizen that will suffer the consequences for the months and the years of cleanup ahead. Areas that once were vast recreational fishing grounds and family campsites are now inundated with a toxic brew of poisons that will leach into the groundwater systems and lakes, most likely rendering these areas useless and uninhabitable for years. Make no mistake about that assessment. Cleanup alone will rise into the hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars. The unthinkable has happened.
Duke Energy has used the river basin area for storage of its toxic by-product for decades. Only recently have they been held responsible for a more stringent storage system of lagoons and permanently sealed bottoms to contain the toxic brew of mercury, arsenic, lead and many other caustic compositions. Once introduced into the potable water system, fly ash by-product will lead to cancer and other health-related issues to anyone using well water from this system. The river basin system is approximately six-eight plus thousand acres serving twenty-six counties and one hundred and fourteen municipalities containing over two million souls. The river serves industries, transportation, recreation, drinking water, and aesthetic enjoyment. In February 2014, a Duke Energy coal ash basin flooded when a stormwater pipe cracked open, dumping 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. The company later pleaded guilty to criminal negligence. There are no figures at this time on how much has reached the Cape Fear River, but numerous storage lagoons have overflowed as of Tuesday, September 18, 2018.
Another source of Carolina’s despair is the farming practices of waste storage of hog urine and feces. During Hurricane Floyd in 1999, hog lagoons across the eastern part of North Carolina broke open and dumped tons of liquid and solid waste into the storm waters. That material flowed downstream, eventually settling in coastal estuaries. It was blamed for elevated nitrogen and phosphorous levels, algae blooms, and fish kills. After this storm, North Carolina put moratoriums on building new farms and bought out forty-three hog operations located in the floodplain and either moved or eliminated another one hundred and three waste lagoons. All lagoons were required to be re-engineered for stability. As of September 18, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality said it had received reports of discharges or overtopping of lagoons at seven locations. Four others had been inundated by floodwaters. These lagoons are the size of football fields.
My point of all this? North Carolina will now spend the next few years (decades?) and hundreds of millions (Billions?) of dollars trying to fix, or negate, or modify systems that should have and could have been built to minimize environmental risks. And if that system cannot sustain and maintain a reasonable safety factor in a high-risk area, then it need not be there in the first place. But, not only was it there but those whose responsibility to ensure its ability to maintain and contain its contents to protect the populace and their environment; failed. The political leaders whose responsibility to ensure that adequate measures be taken to assure the same; failed. The corporate managers and engineers that serve them; failed. All three legs on the public service stool were rotten to the core and that stool; failed. Farmers will be held responsible for the flooding and failure of their lagoons and will suffer, financially. They will literally pay, while in actuality, they were only playing by the rules mandated by the state. Taxpayers will literally pay for the clean-up of the fly ash for years to come. And, IF Duke Energy is fined, that cost will be passed on to the energy using public. Corporate leaders will hold the bottom line and deflect the costs while they hold politicians at bay. And politicians will pontificate and deflect the blame away while passing on the costs on to their constituency. You see, it’s all a game to them. You and I end up paying the cost. Whether it’s with our health, or our tax dollars and our futures. Does not matter to them. The sad price of Hurricane Florence is not only the loss of life and property but the loss of public support from those that hold our futures in their hands. But, if your future and my future doesn’t fit the bottom line, well, I am afraid it just doesn’t count so much.