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On February 2nd, coal ash spilled from a coal ash pond in North Carolina, coating about 70 miles of the Dan River. Five years ago, another coal ash pond located in Tennessee had a massive spill causing environmental damage.

Did you know there is nearly two million tons of coal ash in a coal ash pond right here in the Lowcountry? We visited that site operated by Santee Cooper Monday afternoon.

Just outside Moncks Corner, next to the Jefferies Generating Station, sits a 170 acre pond. Nearly 2 million tons of coal ash fills the pond. Tom Kierspe is the Vice President of Environmental, Property and Water System Management for Santee Cooper. "The Jefferies Generating Station has been retired. And before retirement, the combustion materials have been placed in a pond, originally intended for long-term storage."

Much of the ash is the consistency of clay, so large trucks can drive on the pond. Rather than storing it long term, a new plan is underway. The ash is being scooped up, separated from other debris and then loaded onto large trucks to be taken to nearby plants to be mixed into a new use. "That material is going to be moving into the concrete and Redimix markets."

Kierspe says in addition to the obvious benefit of getting rid of what is currently a toxic byproduct, "It's a win for the economy, we have several businesses investing as much as $40 million creating jobs for the economy, and it's a win for customers because it's financially the right thing to do and it eliminates a long-term potential problem with the ponds."

The coal ash pond is located next to the Tail Race Canal in Moncks Corner. We asked if the pond in Moncks Corner could break and spill ash into the Tail Race Canal, which becomes the Cooper River. Kierspe says this pond is different. "Several of the notable incidents in Tennessee geographically (they are) a lot different than what we have, There's a lot of elevation changes being in the Lowcountry. We don't have that type of risk if there ever were an incident."

Once all of the coal ash is cleaned out, within 10 to 15 years, Santee Cooper plans to restore the pond to a wetlands-like environment.

Image courtesy of WCBD-TV.