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Duke Energy must stop the flow of contaminated groundwater off the site of a power plant in Wilmington, NC, state environmental officials said.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) fined Duke $25.1 million in March for groundwater violations at the Sutton plant. Duke is appealing the fine.

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Duke acknowledged contamination at Sutton in late 2013, when it agreed to pay up to $1.8 million for a water line to a low-income community near the plant.

On Tuesday, DENR sent Duke a notice saying tests found high levels of boron – a coal ash element that is an indicator of polluted groundwater – a half-mile beyond the line that indicates a violation.

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Boron levels at two water-supply wells did not exceed the state groundwater standard but came close, the notice said. The wells were downhill of the Sutton ash ponds.

“The levels of boron in these wells are a clear indication that coal ash constituents from Duke Energy’s coal ash impoundments have infiltrated the water supply,” DENR assistant secretary Tom Reeder said.

The notice orders Duke to take immediate action to “control and prevent further migration” of the contaminants. It gives Duke until July 9 to file plans on how it will control the contaminated plume and evaluate its effectiveness.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan called the timing of Tuesday’s notice “curious and confusing, since the company has been following the state’s prescribed process to address the situation at Sutton for months now.”

Groundwater tests that will guide plans for closing Sutton’s ash ponds plans are underway, she said, with results expected later this summer. Duke is waiting for state permits to start closing the ponds.

Officials found contaminated groundwater at all 14 of Duke’s coal-fired power plants in the state. State officials urged owners of 166 private wells near the plants to not drink their water.

Duke said there is little evidence ash ponds hurt their neighbors.

Sheehan said owners of one of the two wells with high boron levels near Sutton refused Duke’s offer of drinking water. The other well isn’t operating, she said.

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