Water contaminated with coal ash.
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  • Water contaminated with coal ash.

Chatham County leaders have approved a pending deal with Duke Energy that would force the energy company to compensate the county for dumping its toxic coal ash in an abandoned Moncure brick mine.

The deal, which was announced Tuesday, requires Duke to pay $18 million to the county, with the first $6 million payment coming within 10 days after the company dumps its first coal ash at the site. Chatham will use the funds to help monitor the site, county leaders said.

The pact also caps the maximum amount dumped in Moncure at 12 million tons and forbids Duke from transporting coal ash from outside the state to Chatham.

“The agreement we voted on is certainly not everything we sought, because actions by the state of North Carolina prevented us from denying the site and have minimized our leverage,” Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jim Crawford said in a statement. “Even so, we have secured several important requirements that will help protect the safety and health of the community and natural resources.”

Chatham’s agreement follows two weeks after the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) approved key permits for the controversial project, which has generated widespread opposition from Chatham residents since it was announced in November.

Despite that opposition, state law forbids local governments from banning coal ash dumping in their borders. The coal byproduct contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium, both of which have been linked to cancer.

Lawmakers voted last year to require Duke Energy to clean up its leaky coal ponds across the state after a 39,000-ton spill in Eden’s Dan River. Duke also plans to dump up to 8 million tons at another brick mine in nearby Lee County.

Earlier this year, Lee County officials made their own deal with the energy giant, agreeing to accept $12 million from the company. Both deals would compensate the counties at a rate of $1.50 per ton of coal ash.

The Chatham deal includes several additional concessions to the county, including annual payments of $114,193 for five years to make up for lost property tax revenues following the closure of the company’s Cape Fear Plant in Chatham in 2012. Duke will also pay $300,000 to the Moncure Fire Department because of lost fire tax revenues.

Perhaps most importantly, the accord requires the company’s contractor, Kentucky-based Charah Inc., to notify the county of any water sampling results and any state permit violations. Chatham will also be able to perform its own testing on a quarterly basis provided it gives Duke notice.

“We will not hesitate to sound an alarm when it needs to be sounded,” said Chatham Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Mike Cross. “The safety of residents, businesses and natural resources in that area is paramount.”

The county said the agreement would not preclude them from holding Charah Inc. and the landowner, Green Meadow LLC, legally liable for any environmental damage. As the Indy reported last year, the plan allows Duke to sidestep liability for the dumping.