NCGA

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:

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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.

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.

Challenges to mitigating flood damage in Lumber River area

When the levee breaks, we'll have no place to stay:

Robeson County’s “Resilient Redevelopment Plan,” conceived after Matthew, called for upgrades to the Lumber River levee and the construction of a floodgate where the levee opens for a railroad crossing. That would prevent what happened during the 2016 storm, when the river poured through the opening into largely low-income neighborhoods of south and west Lumberton. Hundreds of houses were damaged or destroyed.

But the construction of the floodgate requires coordinating with CSX, the freight company that owns the railroad track — or Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to force the issue by declaring eminent domain. Neither scenario has happened yet.

As you can see from the artist's rendering, this proposed floodgate would not only (temporarily) block off a road, but also a rail line. Which might seem a little crazy, until you consider that huge opening in the levee pretty much makes the levee itself almost useless. During Florence, National Guard troops tried to block it with sand bags, but that effort proved fruitless:

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Hurricane photo ops:

You should be coordinating your efforts with the Governor, but instead you're touring with Franklin Graham's charity express. Your entire career has been one big campaign event after another, and you should be ashamed. And so should your Legislative buddies:

Dam collapses at Duke Energy coal ash impoundment

Sometimes I really hate when my predictions come true:

Torrential rain from Hurricane Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at Duke Energy’s Sutton plant in Wilmington. The utility reported about 2,000 cubic yards of material, including ash, was displaced. For context, the average commercial dump truck holds about 10-14 cubic yards, meaning the amount of displaced material at Sutton was equivalent to 142 dump truck loads.

It’s unclear if the rains carried any coal ash beyond the landfill and into the lake — and if so, how much. The landfill, which is lined, is designed to hold 5 million tons of coal ash in three cells. The utility notified state environmental regulators of the slope failure.

Hat-tip to Lisa Sorg and Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette for keeping us informed on this. Kemp was going to do an on-site (or as close as he could get) inspection yesterday, so hopefully we'll have an accurate photo to go with this story. Here's an update from Kemp:

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