Coal Ash Wednesday: Greenway or Brownway?

Bolin Creek in Chapel Hill has a coal ash problem:

The Town is awaiting further direction from the NC Department of Environmental Quality on its recommendations for next steps for this site. This was the site of a coal ash infill that dates from the 1960s and 1970s. When the Town discovered the materials in late 2013, we acted quickly to notify NC DENR, which is the old name for what is now known as NC DEQ. We are committed to following all environmental laws and standards to ensure the health and safety of our community.

I just stumbled across this, so if I get a few things wrong hopefully someone will correct me. The Town may have "discovered" the coal ash in 2013, but seven years later they were still "discovering" how bad the problem was:

The Town of Chapel Hill is temporarily closing a portion of the Bolin Creek Trail, located between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Bolinwood Drive, for the removal of soil and low-lying vegetation which contains coal ash deposits. Construction resumed in January 2020 for the missing 500-foot section of the Bolin Creek Trail connector east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The removal of the coal ash deposits is one of the final steps of the process to be completed.

In an effort to protect trees and their roots, the Town of Chapel Hill asked its contractor to use a vacuum excavator to carefully remove the soil with coal ash deposits in an attempt to save as many large trees as possible. Upon removing the soil, the town discovered a significant amount of coal ash embedded within the shallow roots of a number of trees. As such, the town will be removing 12 trees and replacing them in the fall when planting conditions are better.

The Town of Chapel Hill said it anticipates reopening this segment of the trail in May.

Cleaning up the Greenway is (of course) a good idea, but that path merely crosses a larger area contaminated with coal ash. An area that is very likely leaching into Bolin Creek itself. And when asked by SELC and the Friends of Bolin Creek about the classification of the site, here is the response:

What are the implications for using a residential scenario versus the current recreator/trespasser scenario?

Significant increased costs for no real increase in protection
Would approximately double the amount of soil excavation and disposal
More excavator and truck emissions to transport soil away and import more backfill
More trucks on the highways hauling soil
Unnecessary use of valuable landfill space
More time to complete the work and more inconvenience for trail users
Damage to more trees and vegetation along the greenway trail
Would establish an unsubstantiated precedent and expectation to the community for a level of remediation not supported by either environmental science or engineering methods, nor USEPA and NCDEQ rules, guidelines or methods.

In other words, a whole lot of coal ash is going to be left in place, for an assortment of reasons that mostly deal with "inconvenience."

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