Coal Ash Wednesday: Here come the sludge

And this will be fouling the Neuse River for a long time to come:

Matthew Starr had paddled only a half mile of a stretch of Neuse River near Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro when he saw initial signs that something had gone very wrong. “There was exposed coal ash on trees, floating in the river, on the road,” said Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “There was coal ash lying on the ground. We scooped it up out of the water.”

Flooding from Hurricane Florence had drowned two inactive coal ash basins in five feet of water. The active basins, according to state regulators, were structurally sound, but the Half Mile Branch Creek, according to images published by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was flowing through the inactive basin complex, which is covered in trees and other vegetation. Cenospheres, hollow balls of silica and aluminum that are coal ash byproducts, were floating on the water. But cenospheres are not entirely innocuous; they often contain arsenic and lead, just like the coal they came from.

This is one of the coal ash sites Duke Energy was ordered to relocate, but in late 2016 they sought for and received approval to recycle that ash instead. In other words, it shouldn't have been there to leak out. At least not in the volume it did. But of course that "volume" is hard to quantify, since we can't trust Duke Energy to be honest about its reporting:

Wednesday News: Highly reprehensible

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LUMBERTON RESIDENTS SEEK CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT AGAINST RAILROAD COMPANY CSX: If they succeed in getting their class certified by the federal judge, that would kick off a class action lawsuit open to anyone who owns property in Lumberton that was damaged during Florence. That could include anything from real estate to a car. It would also include any local business with a claim that it lost income due to flooding from the CSX site. The residents claimed Tuesday in court that that nearly all of the Hurricane Florence flooding in town could’ve been prevented — saving nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in damages to the town and its residents — if only CSX had taken action. Matt Lee is a Raleigh attorney for the Whitfield, Bryson and Mason law firm that’s filing the complaint. He said Lumberton has “a levee system that was designed to prevent this kind of flooding and the one open spot was where CSX had train tracks running underneath I-95. CSX knew about that, and they didn’t do it. They wouldn’t even have had to pay for it.”
https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article219005520.html

Tuesday News: Pay-to-play Tim

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GOP SPEAKER HAS QUESTIONS TO ANSWER ON CONTRACTS, LEGISLATION, AND CAMPAIGN DONATIONS: Whitaker said KNOW Bio’s co-founder and board chairman Neal Hunter had given Moore the contract. What Whitaker, who left the company in April, said she didn’t know is that four years earlier, Moore as the powerful Rules Committee chairman had helped Hunter with a controversial development that was in danger of failing. Moore ran legislation that forced the city of Durham to provide water and sewer for the 751 South project, which will place 1,300 residences and 600,000 square feet of offices and shops on 166 acres near Jordan Lake. Mitchell is a friend and campaign supporter of Moore’s. In 2015, when Moore became speaker, the House voted Mitchell to the UNC Board of Governors. State election records show since 2013, Mitchell and his wife have contributed $30,300 to Moore’s campaign fund; Hunter and his wife have given $33,300.
https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article218576350.html

Tuesday Twitter roundup

Talk about getting it bass-ackwards:

This is a "balance of powers" argument, which (of course) fails to address the invasive elephant in the room: Republicans in the General Assembly have taken numerous steps to erode the powers of that Governor, taking away not only his "relevance" but also his ability to provide a counterpoint to their often regressive policies. And they've taken (or tried to take) similar steps with the NC Supreme Court since that majority flipped as well, not to mention what they've done to the lower courts. And yet John Hood would have us believe those same power-grabbing Republicans need to be re-elected to "contain" the other two branches. That's rather Trumpian, don't you think?

More on Florence voting difficulties: Out of county, out of luck?

Depending on the Statutes, this might be another Special Session need:

North Carolina’s robust early voting schedule this year should help, but that won’t be an option for voters who end up staying far from their home county. Current rules require you to use only the early voting sites in the county where you’re registered. State leaders should consider allowing voters from affected counties to cast provisional ballots across the state.

That likely creates a logistical hassle, but it would provide flexibility for people who might not be able to return to their home county just to vote.

And I just (before reading the above) sent a follow-up e-mail to the NC BOE suggesting this very thing. The truth is, with all these satellite early voting sites drawing information from the same state-wide database, there's no major technical challenge to allowing people to early vote out-of-county. But after a brief perusal of the Statutes in question, the General Assembly may need to add some wording to make that allowable. I've yet to see a "you must vote in your county" directive, but the chain of custody (voter to county, county to state) seems to preclude that.

Monday News: Implausible denialism

DUKE ENERGY SEZ COAL ASH YOU'RE SEEING IS NOT REALLY THERE: Nearby, a gray film floated around the banks of the river, which Matt Butler, a program director for Sound Rivers, a nonprofit that monitors the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River Basins, identified as the lighter parts of coal ash. The heavier components, he said, sink to the bottom or are suspended in the water. “I think this is a very significant spill,” Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear riverkeeper, said in an interview Saturday. “There were numerous breaches that have all contributed to this ... given the aerial photography and the satellite imagery that we have seen it looks like a lot of coal ash was kind of pulled down to those breaches and out to the Cape Fear River. That is certainly what we saw yesterday when we were on the water.” But Duke Energy disagreed that ash is contaminating the water, suggesting that Burdette may have seen nontoxic byproducts floating in the water.
https://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article218870635.html

Sunday News: From the Editorial pages

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LEGISLATORS SHOULD TAP HUGE RAINY DAY FUND TO SPEED HURRICANE FLO RECOVERY: The truth is that North Carolina has the resources to meet the immediate recovery needs – and address broader policies and needs including effective alternatives to massive hog and poultry waste lagoons that have overflowed in the storm dumping millions of gallons of raw manure into streams and rivers. Legislators boast that the state’s rainy day fund has more than $2 billion dollars in it – along with another $650 million in unspent money from the 2017-18 budget. There is no better time to tap some of those funds than now. Hurricane Flo was a rainy day if there ever was one. Be sure, voters will be watching to see if the legislature chooses to play partisan political games or works diligently with the governor to address the dire needs of suffering citizens. The special session comes almost exactly a month before Election Day 2018. See you at the polls.
https://www.wral.com/editorial-legislators-should-tap-massive-rainy-day-fund-to-speed-recovery-from-...

Trump's tariffs will make Florence rebuilding up to 30% more costly

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Steering the ship of state right onto the reefs:

Homebuilders and contractors say the administration’s trade policy will add to the price increases that usually follow natural disasters. In addition to materials like lumber, steel and aluminum, the United States will impose tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports next week, including countertops, furniture and gypsum, a key ingredient in drywall. All told, some builders estimate that construction costs could be 20 to 30 percent higher than they would have been without these tariffs.

“We’re all going to pay the price for it in terms of higher construction costs,” said Alan Banks, president of the North Carolina Home Builders Association.

Of course Trump doesn't understand this, and neither do many of his supporters. Our town is going through a growth spurt, and I've had several NIMBY citizens ask me why we are in "such a rush" to approve new housing projects. When I tell them about the cost of building going up because of these tariffs, which will (probably) slow things down quite a bit in the near future, I usually get blank stares. One obviously Trump-supporting dude tried to make lemonade out of it by saying, "Good! My home will increase in value." When I asked him if he was thinking about selling, he said, "No! I love my house!" When I broke the news the only thing he would get out of the deal was higher property taxes, he wandered off with a vacant look on his face. Bless his little MAGA heart. And the tariff punishments just keep on coming:

Saturday News: Toxic nightmare

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FLOODED DUKE ENERGY SUTTON PLANT MIXING COAL ASH INTO CAPE FEAR RIVER: Duke Energy confirmed Friday that floodwaters from Hurricane Florence have spilled into a coal ash storage pond near Wilmington and could be washing the toxic waste into the Cape Fear River. The river had been rising for days, and Duke had issued an emergency warning Thursday that a breech was likely. The 47-year-old coal ash pond is separated from the Cape Fear River by Sutton Lake, a public fishing lake used as a source of water to cool a coal-burning power plant that was shut down in 2013. Because of rising waters, the river, lake and ash pond are now part of one water system, but Duke has installed a steel barrier at the ash pond to prevent the waste from moving in the reverse direction back into the river. “Its all mixing,” said Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan. “We know that water is being discharged from the ash basin.”
https://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article218791660.html

Voting after Florence: Matthew problems on steroids

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The people who most need a new vision in NC government may lose their voice:

Hurricane Florence disrupted daily operations for local governments in North Carolina, including county boards of elections. It's the second time in two years that voting officials have had to improvise just weeks before a General Election. In Craven County, it's deja vu for Director of Elections Meloni Wray. She remembers when Hurricane Matthew hit her office in New Bern two years ago, less than a month before a major election. "The only difference is we didn't actually have our ballots here in-house," Wray said.

The state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement drafted this year's ballots later than usual because of multiple lawsuits against four of this year's six proposed constitutional amendments. It turns out that delay helped avoid what could have been a lot of soggy ballots.

That's kind of an up-beat assessment, but the reality is: If those absentee ballots had been mailed out prior to the storm, at least one leg of the journey would have been completed. As it stands now, post offices are closed, people have been displaced, and getting those absentee ballots into their hands in time is becoming somewhere between difficult and impossible. So early (out of precinct) voting is looking more and more like the only solution. But that means all those carefully-prepared and state-approved county voting plans won't be sufficient, for nearly a third of the state. Even if "scheduled" locations are operational by the time early voting begins, just getting to those places with all the road closures (1,100 right now) is going to be a challenge, to put it mildly. We need a new plan, stat.

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