Press Release | October 9, 2013

Authority Objects to Duke Energy Blocking Access to 11,000 Acres of Wilmington Groundwater

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board today objected to a provision in a proposed agreement by Duke Energy that would set a 17-square-mile area of groundwater–an area that reaches to downtown Wilmington–off-limits to the public water system because of toxic coal ash pollution from Duke Energy’s Sutton plant.

“It is outrageous that Duke proposed its illegal groundwater pollution result in the groundwater under 11,000 acres and 17 square miles being off limits forever to the public water system,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’d be one of the largest losses of natural resources to illegal pollution in North Carolina history.”

“This proposed agreement was made public only this past weekend. I’m stunned to learn that Duke/Progress is seeking to prohibit the CFPUA from ever being able to drill wells for drinking water in an 11,000 acre area,” said Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “If you look at the area Duke wants to put off limits forever, presumably because of the threat of contamination, it is outrageous. What about the establishments in that area that get their water from their own groundwater wells—what does this say about the safety of their drinking water?”

Toxic coal ash pollution from Duke’s Sutton plant on the Cape Fear River has contaminated groundwater and is moving toward public drinking water wells for the Flemington community that are owned and operated by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. Under the proposed agreement, the water utility would pay almost $500,000 to replace the wells with a water line while Duke would pay for other project costs.

As part of that agreement, Duke insists that the water utility promise to never obtain drinking water from groundwater within an 11,000-acre or 17-square-mile area.  The off-limits zone would include all groundwater between the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers south of the New Hanover County line. The utility currently pumps ground water from two wells located about one-half mile from the coal ash impoundments to supply drinking water to the surrounding areas.

Duke’s proposed agreement with the authority stated that “henceforth, no withdrawal wells will be installed and/or utilized by [the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority] in the area bounded by the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers south of the New Hanover County line. The parties agree that this provision shall forever survive the termination or expiration of this Agreement.”

Cape Fear River Watch, the Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance are parties to a suit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center in federal court to require Duke to clean up its coal ash pollution at Sutton Lake.

“Illegal coal ash pollution is damaging North Carolina’s natural resources,” said Kelly Martin with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Wilmington’s groundwater should be cleaned up, not placed off limits forever to the public water system.”

The conservation groups are also seeking to intervene in a state enforcement action brought by North Carolina against Duke for its groundwater contamination at Sutton.

“We have a grave concern about all the people and businesses on private wells in this newly proposed exclusion area that could be influenced by the rapidly advancing toxic groundwater plume that is moving from Duke’s coal ash ponds towards Flemington at a rate of 109 to 339 feet per year,” said Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “All the people in this area should be provided with clean, safe drinking water that won’t become contaminated with the heavy metals associated with coal ash.

About Cape Fear River Watch
Founded in 1993, Cape Fear River Watch works to protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy, and action.

About the Sierra Club
Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Inspired by nature, we are 2.1 million of your friends and neighbors, working together to protect our communities and the planet. Read more at

About the Waterkeeper Alliance
Founded in 1999 by environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and several veteran Waterkeeper Organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

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Press Contacts

Frank Holleman

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 919-967-1450