Danny's Desk
Feb 11, 2014

The Dan River Situation: Calling in Help.

We just finished Crossover for the House and Senate bills here in Richmond, but there is actually a great deal of focus on matters at home. The coal ash spill into the Dan River from a Duke Power pipe in North Carolina is a serious matter that must be handled in the most efficient manner possible. At the state level there are many resources to help and we have asked for all of that assistance.

Monday morning we convened a meeting, at my request, where we discussed short-term and long-term plans for clean-up and how to make the river whole. Coming to meet with us were:

Honorable Molly Ward, Secretary of Natural Resources

Honorable Dr. Bill Hazel, Secretary of Health and Human Resources

Dr. Marissa Levine, Chief Deputy Commissioner, Virginia Department of Health

John Aulbach, II, PE, Director, Office of Drinking Water

David Paylor, Director, Department of Environmental Quality

Bob Duncan, Director, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Ryan Brown, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Legislative and Policy Manager

Legislators attending were Delegate Tommy Wright, Delegate James Edmunds, Delegate Les Adams, Senator Frank Ruff, and Senator Bill Stanley. Also there were Scott Leake, from Congressman Robert Hurt’s office and Brenda Bowman, Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors.

All of the state officials were very responsive to our questions and are working in a coordinated effort to address the total problem at hand. There is a short-term and long-term plan with several phases.

In the meeting we were told that the leak from a 48-inch diameter pipe was finally plugged last Saturday afternoon. When the leak was discovered, the first priority was to take care of the drinking water. We have positive reports on that front. While water samples had been sent to the Health Department for testing, the State Director of Drinking Water put a team on the ground at the river to work continuously, including overtime last weekend taking samples and monitoring results. The test for the drinking water takes a number of hours to process.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor reported:

“This is to give you a summary of Virginia’s response to the coal ash spill from a Duke Energy site in Eden, North Carolina.  As soon as the incident was reported, we notified the Danville Public Utility to begin testing of drinking water quality.  DEQ also dispatched staff to the river.  I was in contact with my counterpart in North Carolina and the President of Duke Energy.  EPA Region IV was summoned to the scene and they proceeded to set up a Unified Command which is made up of NCDENR, EPA, Duke Energy, VaDEQ, and USFWS.  DEQ has a representative on-site to assist in coordinating the response. From the outset, Danville worked with VDH to assess drinking water quality.  The treatment system performed well and drinking water quality has not been compromised throughout the event.”

So the first phases of response to plug the leak and to clean the water for safe use appear to have been accomplished. Along with the normal treatment, there is direct filtering of the water. Also the sludge is being diverted rather than being handled as in the past.

The next phase is transition into treatment of the river in general – the sediment, the ash on the banks and the sludge. The full clean-up will not happen overnight and there will be environmental effects. We have a Virginia team in place that is evaluating independently, but working together to address the many questions brought forth.

In the meeting General Assembly members posed questions received from constituents. We were assured that Duke Energy will be held accountable financially for the work to get the clean-up accomplished.

At the state level our agencies are working to ensure continued critical testing of our drinking water, to receive and dispatch timely updates regarding the Dan River condition, and to keep citizens informed regarding the status of the effects of the coal ash spill into the river and how each problem will be handled.

As in all of life, when bad things happen for whatever reason, the best response it to be pro-active, get the most knowledgeable people to help, make prudent judgments and make things right as quickly as possible. I want to let you know that this is the attitude and the way that the situation is being handled at the state level.