State officials hosted an open house to discuss coal ash clean up near the Marshall Steam Plant in Catawba County. It was a chance for neighbors to learn about options, but the meeting did not go as planned.
Residents erupted in boos and cheers from the hundreds of people packed in the Sherrill’s Ford Elementary School gym. Crowd size alone showed how much neighbors care about the coal ash clean up and on Thursday night most of them were angry.
“People just started screaming and jumping out of their seats saying we aren’t closing this meeting!” said Steven V’Agostino. “We came here to get information and you haven’t given us anything.”
Homeowners demanded details on the plan to clean up tons of coal ash.
“We see this huge mountain of coal ash being piled up it grows every day.”
The North Carolina Department of Environment Quality told Fox46 Charlotte they were expecting to hold one on one conversations about exit plans at Marshall Steam Pant, traffic, and time expected to clean up the coal ash in ground water. They only had a hundred comment cards for attendees to fill out.
“It looks like a thousand people in the gym tonight and to expect we are going to go around to these flip charts and digest things and ask questions, it’s totally unrealistic.”
“I’m appalled by the forum that we all came out here with the expectation that there would be an open discussion,” said Dianna Wilson. “We are just here shuffled in a room to fill out cards.”
State officials quickly changed their tune to answer group questions and concerns about illness and water contamination.
We also spoke with Duke Energy spokesperson, Bill Norton, before Thursday night’s meeting: “In this case for Marshall, you could be talking about three decades disturbance to the local community, and five times the cost, more than a billion dollars, and that’s just the major construction costs. Why in the world would you pay five times the cost for the same outcome? It doesn’t make sense.”
With a raise of hands, neighbors made their voice loud and clear: “the audience decided to take a poll themselves,” said V’Agostino. “So at least they could walk away understanding that unanimously people want to see this thing shut down somehow.”
The goal of Thursday’s meeting was not about deciding on a plan, but instead officials wanted to gather neighbor’s input. The next meeting in the Charlotte area will be on January 29th in Belmont. State officials have until April to provide feedback to Duke Energy. A final plan will be decided in August.