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Duke Energy Progress received a notice of violation and intent to enforce for groundwater contamination from coal ash ponds at the L.V. Sutton Electric Plant in New Hanover County, said N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials.

The notice is the legally required first step toward issuing the utility a fine for violations of the state’s groundwater contamination laws, DENR said.

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Duke Energy retired the Sutton plant in 2013. The site has two coal ash ponds.

“We said in court last year that the groundwater around the Sutton Plant was contaminated by Duke’s coal ash ponds,” said Tom Reeder, the director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, said in a statement. “But as the legal process for stopping the violations drags on, we will take what action we can using our existing authority to hold the utility financially accountable for damaging the public resource.”

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Reeder’s two-page letter states that monitoring wells surrounding the coal ash ponds at the Sutton Plant exceed the state groundwater standards for boron, thallium, selenium, iron, manganese and other constituents, DENR said.

“As a result of the violations, our office is considering a recommendation for assessment of a civil penalty,” Reeder said.

The agency gave Duke Energy Progress 15 days to respond to the notice of violation. Fines could result if necessary.

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