State environmental officials have not yet announced whether they will extend the review period and conduct a public hearing on a local power plant’s request for a permit to continue discharging waste ash and other materials into the Atlantic Ocean.

The towns of Oak Island and Caswell Beach have asked the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for more time to study CPI USA’s request for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Additionally,

See Permit, page 8A

the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Brunswick Environmental Action Team, and three other environmental groups have called for modifications to the permit and for a public hearing.

The plant is operating under an administrative extension of a previous state permit. DEQ is now requiring a more extensive process for the facility.

In a 21-page letter to the state, SELC asked for a detailed analysis of the waste stream before issuance of any NPDES permit. Attorneys for the group called the existing and proposed permits “far too lax.”

The draft permit would allow CPI, also known as Capital Power, to discharge coal pile runoff, fuel pile runoff from wood and ground-up tires, bottom ash transport water, cooling tower blowdown, reverse osmosis filter reject water and low-volume wastewater that includes backwash from a demineralizer, boiler blowdown and accumulated water from the floor of the turbine building.

CPI operates an 88-megawatt plant that provides steam to Archer Daniels Midland and electricity to Duke Energy. The wastewater in question goes into Duke’s canal that uses water from the Cape Fear River to cool its two nuclear power reactors in Southport.

CPI burns old tires, wood and coal to make steam and electricity.

DEQ spokeswoman Sarah Young wrote in an email that the discharge includes about 17,000 gallons per year of bottom ash transport water, which is washed out periodically from the boilers.

CPI spokeswoman Katherine Perron, in an email, wrote that “the Southport Power Plant does not flush materials like ash or oil and grease into the nearby cooling canal. Ash generated from the power generation process is collected in enclosed silos and containment bunkers and trucked off site to an approved landfill. We also have an oil water separation system and on-site concrete settling basins to capture any solids (including ash) or oil and grease that may be generated as a result of site activities.”

In a later email, she stated “as an industrial facility that discharges water offsite into a body of water, we are required by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.”

Perron did not respond to follow-up questions by The State Port Pilot about the draft DEQ permit, which clearly states that the company is putting waste ash and other materials into the canal which empties into the ocean about 2,000 feet off Caswell Beach, just west of Oak Island Lighthouse. The draft permit included a map showing a mixing zone in the ocean that includes nearly all of Caswell Beach and part of Oak Island.

DEQ stated that the average value of oil and grease discharge from October 2014 through March 2019 was 5.1 parts per million and total suspended solids were 7.9 parts per million.

Perron wrote that CPI had not recorded oil or grease in any discharge sample during the past three years, which is not supported by DEQ’s records.

DEQ also provided an engineering schematic dated March 2016 which stated that total wastewater flow to the Atlantic Ocean was 411,539 gallons per day.

“Capital Power is committed to maintaining strong environmental practices that we’ve developed and implemented at the Southport facility,” Perron wrote. “The plant is in full compliance with the ... NPDES permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ). We are presently working with the NCDEQ to renew this permit.”