Morris Lawson has been fishing at the Dan River since he was 5 years old.
“It’s my river,” Lawson said during an interview at a public input meeting related to river restoration efforts held in the Danville Municipal Building on Tuesday evening. “I fish this river two to three days a week.”
Since the coal ash spill into the river more than five year ago, it hasn’t been the same, the 50-year-old Danville resident said.
There are fewer fish, he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality held a public meeting to gather comments about Duke Energy’s efforts to atone for the spill.
On Feb. 2, 2014, a storm-water pipe broke at the closed Dan Steam Station in Eden, North Carolina, releasing coal ash into the Dan River. About 39,000 tons of the ash and about 25 million gallons of ash-storage pond water spilled into the river from the Duke Energy facility.
Sara Ward, ecologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, pointed out four projects being paid for by Duke Energy, including acquisition and conservation of the Mayo River Floodplain and riverbank that added up to 619 acres to the Mayor River State Parks in Virginia and North Carolina.
The other projects include aquatic habitat restoration in the Pigg River; establishment of boat launch facilities on the Dan River to address shortage of public access locations; and improvements to Abreu-Grogan Park in Danville.
Of the four projects, three have been completed, Ward said.
The meeting is “to help folks understand what’s been done to offset the natural resource injuries and lost use of the river,” Ward said during an interview just before the meeting.
Tiffany Haworth, executive director of the Dan River Basin Association, said of the meeting: “This is an opportunity to the community to make their voices heard.”
As for whether the restoration efforts have helped mitigate the effects of the spill, “That is for the public to determine,” Haworth said.
Lawson said there is nothing that can be done, that the coal ash is not going anywhere.
But Davis Montogomery, Duke Energy district manager, said studies have shown that the Dan River returned to normal not long after the spill.
“That doesn’t mean you take your eyes off of it,” Montgomery said. “You continue to monitor it.”
Public comments on the draft restoration plan and environmental assessment will be accepted through Sept. 9.
Written comments can be sent to Ward at email@example.com or Susan Lingenfelser at firstname.lastname@example.org or to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Virginia Field Office at at 6669 Short Lane, Gloucester, VA 23061. Attn: Dan River Restoration Plan.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.