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Jackson County commissioners are weighing whether to continue a four-year fight against Duke Energy or cut their losses and bow out.

Duke Energy has received clearance from the state to tear down the Dillsboro dam but will be forced to dredge a backlog of sediment from behind the dam first.

A plan by Duke Energy to tear down the century-old Dillsboro dam drew a crowd of opponents to a public hearing last week held by the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

What’s in a permit?

Duke Energy must get a permit from the N.C. Division of Water Quality before it can tear down the Dillsboro dam.

There has been a good deal of confusion over whether the state already issued this permit or not — with Duke, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jackson County’s lawyer and even the Division of Water Quality itself under oscillating assumptions as to whether a permit is still pending or has been issued.

By Susan Leveille

Editor’s note: This letter, which contains some updates, was sent by Susan Leveille to the Maggie Salas, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in 2004. She asked that we publish it as a guest column.

Dear Secretary Salas:

As a lifelong resident of Jackson County and one who has always lived within a few thousand yards of the Tuckasegee River, I would like to state some concerns with the proposals made by Duke Power as they seek to receive the exclusive license to use this river for monetary profit derived from the production of electric power.

A public hearing on whether Duke Energy should be allowed to build a new coal-fired power plant in the Shelby area will be held Tuesday, Sept. 18, in Forest City.

Duke Energy must get an air pollution permit from the state before it can build the coal plant. Under the permit, Duke must demonstrate that it can comply with state and federal limits for various pollutants and toxins, from carbon monoxide to mercury to soot particles.

Duke Power does not want to dredge backlogged sediment from behind the Dillsboro dam before tearing it down despite both state and federal agencies insisting otherwise.

Duke filed an appeal this week protesting a decision by the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission that requires Duke to dredge the sediment before it removes the dam. The energy commission granted Duke permission to tear down the Dillsboro dam last month, on the condition that it dredge sediment from behind the dam. Duke must develop a sediment removal plan in conjunction with state and federal environmental agencies, and the energy commission must sign off on it before dam removal can begin.

The phrase “do the right thing,” the name of an early Spike Lee movie, has become a part of the lexicon of this generation. It’s a phrase that has often come to mind — as in, “we wish they would do the right thing ” — as we’ve watched Duke Energy throughout the negotiations to relicense its hydropower operations in the region.

Duke Energy has cleared a major hurdle in its efforts to tear down the nearly 100-year-old Dillsboro dam.

Duke got approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month to tear down the dam. Removal could happen as early as next year, or it could be two to three years away depending on whether critics of dam removal appeal the decision.

The proposed removal of the Dillsboro dam on the Tuckasegee River is up for review by state water quality officers, who could make or break Duke Power’s controversial plans to tear down the dam.

The state must grant Duke Power a water quality permit before it can remove the dam. A written public comment period for the permit is currently underway.

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