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Coal ash battle brews

SEABOARD – The possibility of Northampton County becoming the home to two landfills to store and recycle coal ash is being met with opposition.

On Thursday, Tony Burnette, president of the Northampton County Chapter of the NAACP, contacted the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald to voice his organization’s concerns about VistaGreen’s proposal to locate two landfills on an 804-acre tract of land located off NC 186 (High Bridge Road) between Seaboard and Margarettsville.

“The Northampton County NAACP stands with the people of our county in opposition to this project as proposed by VistaGreen,” said Burnette. “The environmental and the health and safety impacts of this project will hurt this county. We don’t need this.”

Burnette pointed out that a spill or a leak in either or both of the landfills could possibly cause great harm.

“There is the possibility of this coal ash seeping into the groundwater, which could impact those with private water wells; we don’t need that,” he stressed.

He also posed the possibility of an accident occurring when the coal ash is being transported to the site via rail cars or trucks.

“We’re a small county, population wise,” Burnette said. “We’re raising our families here. We are encouraging our county leaders to look after our safety and well-being. We need jobs, but we do not need this form of economic development that may poison our water and endanger the citizens of Northampton County.”

Burnette mentioned the two public meetings scheduled by VistaGreen officials next week (5:30-7:30 p.m. on both Tuesday, Jan. 31 and Wednesday, Feb. 1) at the Seaboard Town Hall.

“The Northampton County NAACP is encouraging all area citizens to attend these meetings and ask questions in an effort to learn more about coal ash landfills,” he said. “We are encouraging our citizens to go on their computers and Google coal ash landfills and read about all the coal ash landfill spills that severely impacted rivers and streams here in our state and other states. There are a lot of ways to learn about coal ash, a product we strongly believe is hazardous to your health.”

Burnette also encouraged citizens to attend the next scheduled meeting of the Northampton County Planning Board, slated for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at the Faison Administrative Building located on NC 305 north of Jackson. The Planning Board, at that meeting, is expected to take under consideration a special use permit applied for by VistaGreen regarding their proposal to develop the High Bridge Road property for use as a facility that will store and recycle coal combustion residuals (better known as coal ash.)

“Let your voices be heard if you are in opposition of these coal ash landfills,” Burnette concluded.

VistaGreen, a private company, is proposing to build two storage units (landfills) at the site. One is 62 acres while the second covers 157 acres. Those landfills will be lined with a thick, durable membrane of high density polyethylene that will be placed on top of a two-foot layer of compacted clay soil. That barrier is designed to prevent any contaminants from migrating into groundwater, said C. Wood Beasley III, one of the two co-owners of VistaGreen.

Additionally there are six ponds proposed, all placed in strategic locations to collect surface run-off water. Those ponds, Beasley said, will be lined with the same material.

If approved, Beasley said the facility will employ a workforce of 75 individuals as well as pay Northampton County in excess of $20 million over a period of 10-to-15 years in “host fees.”

As far as Burnette addressing past spills from coal ash landfills in the central and western portions of North Carolina, Beasley said those were caused by the material being stored in unlined landfills.

“Everything at our proposed facility must be approved and permitted by DEQ (Division of Environmental Quality, a state agency),” Beasley stressed, adding that water samples at the facility are required to be taken on a regular basis and submitted for testing by DEQ.

“There will be monitoring wells located on site and the samples taken from those wells are submitted to the state to confirm that nothing is leaking and the soil and groundwater are not contaminated,” he added.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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