WALNUT COVE -- Dozens of residents who say they have been affected by one of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds want Gov. Pat McCrory to meet them for dinner.
A coalition of community and environmental groups organized a neighborhood meeting on Wednesday where residents from both Stokes and Forsyth counties spoke of how they believe coal ash and the pond at Belews Creek have affected them.
"A lot of the people that has [sic] lived here the amount of time that Duke Energy has been here in operation have passed away with some type of cancer, some type of heart disease,” said Tracey Edwards, a Stokes County resident.
The residents also accused McCrory of colluding with Duke Energy executives and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) during a meeting in June 2015. They say that meeting led to a reduction in the fines Duke was required to pay over alleged groundwater violations at it coal ash ponds across North Carolina.
"DEQ reduced Duke's coal ash settlement from $25 million for one pond to $7 million for all 14 ponds. That's a pretty sweet deal for Duke Energy,” said Caroline Armijo, a spokeswoman for Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup.
The residents say they would now like their own meeting with McCrory, similar to what Duke Energy got.
"We don't want deals behind closed doors,” Edwards said. "We want our say. They had theirs. We want ours."
Gov. McCrory’s office declined to comment on the neighborhood meeting, instead saying the state’s GOP party should provide a response.
"This group, which is nothing but an extension of the Democrat Party, is pushing false attacks in order to distract voters,” said Kara Carter, NCGOP’s press secretary, in a statement.
Duke Energy did respond, referring to the statement it released when the fines settlement was announced in September 2015. The statement said the settlement was reached in part because the state recognized it had violated some of its own regulatory policies during its dealings with the company.
In regards to the health concerns the residents raised, Paige Sheehan, a Duke Energy spokeswoman, said in a statement, “Based on much analysis, we continue to see no evidence that ash basins have influenced neighbors’ [drinking] wells."