Robinson Plant ash cleanup discussed at public meeting

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Concerned community members gathered April 30 at the Lawton Park Pavilion in Hartsville for a public meeting regarding the disposal of coal ash at Duke Energy’s H.B. Robinson Plant, located just north of Hartsville on the shores of Lake Robinson.

Hosted by the Coastal Conservation League and Conservation Voters of South Carolina, the meeting featured a brief history of the unlined ash basin – and Duke’s newly announced cleanup proposal – presented by Frank Holleman, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Frank Holleman, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Frank Holleman, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

Holleman spoke of the high levels of arsenic found in test wells at the 72-acre ash pond – levels sometimes far in excess of the safe drinking water level of 10 parts per billion. SC Department of Health and Environmental Control has directed Duke to test and evaluate groundwater at the site and formulate a plan to remedy the problem.

Duke Energy announced earlier in the day that it plans to excavate and relocate 4.2 million tons of coal ash to an on-site landfill, where it will be stored dry with multiple layers of synthetic and natural barriers. With this announcement, Duke has committed to clean up both of the ash storage facilities at its South Carolina plants. This decision follows
Duke Energy’s recently announced plans for on-site landfills at its Dan River and Sutton plants in North Carolina.

Holleman said that news coverage, conservation group activism, and public awareness played a part in getting the company to commit to these actions.

“Public information is as important as lawsuits… After the public knew what was going on, they (Duke) have committed to clean up every waterfront, unlined coal ash site in the state of South Carolina,” Holleman said, to a round of applause from the crowd. “It’s the only state in the southeast where that is true.”

Specifics of the cleanup plan are still being formulated, with a final plan due for submission to in November. The company has already filed a permit request with state regulators for this landfill facility.

“Protecting groundwater, public health and the environment is our guide when it comes to closing ash basins,” said John Elnitsky, Duke Energy senior vice president of ash basin strategy, in a press release. “We’ve used sound science to test various closure options to develop a custom strategy for the Robinson site… The science tells us that excavating ash from the site and relocating it to a new fully lined landfill is the most reasonable and prudent way to accomplish that.”

Holleman said that it’s difficult to predict how long the Robinson cleanup will take, as projected timelines for cleanup at several North Carolina ash disposal sites vary, with five years being the average minimum.

Some meeting attendees expressed worry over how Duke will dispose of any wet leachate from the ash basin, which is currently dry on the surface and has not received any sluiced ash since 2012 when the Robinson coal plant was decommissioned. Holleman pointed out that ash has penetrated 18 feet below the water table, and regulators will need to carefully track leachate disposal and/or treatment to ensure no contamination of local wells or water supplies.

In the meantime, Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League advised residents near Lake Robinson and the H.B. Robinson Plant with concerns about their well water to contact David Wilson, chief for SC DHEC’s water bureau, at (803) 898-3712.

Senator Gerald Malloy also passed on a piece of positive news, alerting Holleman and the audience that the South Carolina senate voted to preserve the public’s right to sue utilities in cases involving hazardous materials and toxic substances such as coal ash.

More information on Duke Energy’s coal ash management can be found at

Proposed on-site landfill

Proposed on-site landfill

Author: Duane Childers

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