|Riverbend coal-ash ponds beside Mt Island Lake are upstream from Charlotte, Mount Holly water intakes|
Group launches grass-roots effort aimed at ridding Riverbend coal-fired power plant of waste impoundments
- See on-line resources at end of article
Shawn Smalls was typical of several people at the June 20 community meeting about the Riverbend coal-burning power plant and its coal-ash ponds.
Though he drives past the plant daily from his home in the Stonewater neighborhood, “I’m just beginning to learn of the issue,” Smalls said as the two-dozen people gathered at Cook’s Memorial Church introduced themselves.
An hour later, several River District residents had heard enough about potential risks to their health and Charlotte’s water supply to volunteer to invite more people to the group’s next information meeting on July 19.
The groups and individual anti-coal activists who organized the June 20 meeting hope to enlist thousands of people to lobby Duke Energy to close two coal-ash ponds next to Mountain Island Lake. The impoundments, up to 80 feet deep and covering 69 acres, hold millions of gallons of water plus coal ash and dangerous heavy metals.
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has warned that if one or both Riverbend ponds fail, as happened in 2008 on the Tennessee River, the Charlotte region would lose its main source of water for months or possibly years. The EPA has included both Riverbend ponds on its 2009 list of “high hazard potential” coal-ash ponds across the U.S.
Sara Behnke of Mt. Isle Harbor led much of the meeting and presented a Powerpoint presentation about the health risks and environmental damage linked to coal-fired power plants and coal ash. Sam Perkins with the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Bill Gupton with the Sierra Club and anti-coal activist Beth Henry often added comments.
Behnke’s presentation pulled heavily from information sources across the Internet, including the EPA, the Catawba Riverkeeper, Duke Energy, Greenpeace, Clean Air Carolina and USAToday, which recently created an interactive listing air quality outside every school in America.
At the end of the meeting, Monica Embry, a community organizer with Greenpeace, invited the group to help spread their message about the possible dangers. People offered to host living-room information meetings, talk with neighbors and hand out fliers publicizing the July 19 meeting at swim-club meets.
“Many people still don’t know what the problem is,” said Bill Gupton, chair of the Sierra Club’s local chapter.
“I didn’t know; that’s why I came,” Smalls responded. “Sheesh. They’re trying to kill us.”
- Learn more – The grass-roots group now has a name, We Love Mountain Island Lake, and will soon have a website, Sara Behnke says. The next information meeting will take place 7-8:30 p.m. July 19 in the education building basement at Cook's Memorial Presbyterian Church MAP. To learn more, contact Behnke at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional on-line resources
- Sidebar: Why have coal-ash ponds?
- Riverbend plant information from Duke Energy
- Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation materials on coal-fired power plants
- Greenpeace International materials on coal-fired power plants
- Sierra Club map and information on coal-ash waste impoundments
- USAToday interactive map on air quality near U.S. schools