Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Duke Energy offers a bribe; Lee County Commissioners take it

When is a bribe not a bribe? That’s a questions being asked in Lee County, my hometown of Sanford being the county seat. The answer is simple: When Duke Energy extends the cash and the Lee County Commissioners decide to take it. That’s what has happened recently—Duke Energy putting $12 million of unmarked bills in an plain manila envelope, and the County Commissioners lurking in the shadows, taking the money, though this was done in public view—so there would be no objection from the local lawmakers in relation to the dumping and storing of coal ash in Lee County. It looks, smells and feels like a bride, but it’s legal, and that’s too bad.

Duke Energy, the nation’s largest energy company, has issues all over the place with coal ash as a result of operating coal burning power plants for eons. The issue surfaced, so to speak, when there was leakage in a major Virginia-North Carolina river. So, Duke Energy, the villain in this story, has to secure the coal ash and store it some place for the safety of mankind. The perfect spots seem to be an old clay (for brick) mining area of Lee County in the Colon community and nearly directly across the Cape Fear River in the Chatham County community of Brickhaven in another clay mining area. Unlike their Lee County brethren and to their credit, the Chatham County Commissioners have refused to take a bribe from Duke Energy. Instead they continue to fight against Duke Energy’s plan.

Reasoning for taking the money includes the thought Duke Energy will gets its way no matter what so why not get paid for it. In that regard, the Lee County Commissioners are shirking their duty of protecting the citizens there. The commissioners should be fighting the dumping of coal ash every step of the way instead of going with the flow and taking part in the bribery scheme. It would be interesting to see how many Lee County Commissioners have received political contributions from Duke Energy executives. There must be some skeletons in their closets. It would be a good story for the local newspaper, The Sanford Herald, to pursue.

The Lee County Commissioners should be ashamed of themselves for jumping into bed with Duke Energy which has not been fined enough and not been held responsible enough for its wrong-doing. Only when the current and former Presidents and CEOs of Duke Energy agree to dump and store the coal ash in their own residential backyard should other sites be used. What the Lee County Commissioners have done is no better than the deliberate pollution by Duke Energy. Unfortunately, in this case, offering the bribe and taking the bribe seem to be perfectly legal. Hopefully, when the next election rolls around, the citizens of Lee County will remember and vote the crooks out.
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argot (noun) [ahr-goh]: the special vocabulary of a particular profession or social group


  1. Dear Jim,

    I appreciate your concern and thank you for your passionate missive. Unfortunately you missed the mark in your commentary.

    During the months leading up to the 2014 primaries we saw a number of political ads condemning Governor Pat McCrory as having "ash on his hands!" Those ads focusing on the Governors past association with Duke Energy were a result of a massive influx of outside money! Isn't it strange how no one seems to be concerned with outside money when it fits their narrow agenda? These ads targeted a sitting governor who was not up for reelection and the Republicans in a the state legislature as somehow responsible for the Dan River coal ash spill.

    How long were the state legislative (those who wrote the coal ash pond regulations) and executive branches (those that controlled the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources who enforced those regulations) dominated by the Democrat Party? Yeah I know all good progressive liberals are exempt from blame. Is that why former LT. Governor Dennis Wicker's law firm works for Duke Energy?

    That point made, we have a legislative and executive branch rushing legislation to clean-up the mess left behind by previous progressive administrations and legislatures. Remember the state's eugenics program? Yes it was the current Republican Legislature that brought about reparations for a the victims of the Democrat program from days gone by. But I digress, in short the current situation we find ourselves today is the Republican legislature's knee jerk reaction to those political attack ads financed with outside environmental money. Add to that Lee County's geology is ideal with the clay subsoil that facilitates such a reclamation project.

    The County Lawyer succinctly stated we had three options. First we could do nothing. Second we could file suit against DENR over the permitting process. Unfortunately we do not have standing and the legal process would be long and expensive. Will the tax payers be willing to take on the millions of dollars in legal expenses with the likelihood of losing? Three, we agree to accept Duke Energy's offer and thus have a contractual agreement with Duke Energy and Charah.

    My vote against requesting the offer in writing from Duke Energy was based on our not knowing the conditions between the city of Sanford and Duke Energy. The Board Chair revealed to the county the offer made by Duke Energy and yet the city has yet to disclose their dealings. Then there is the question: What is Chatham County's deal with Duke? All three should receive compensation that is at least fair and equitable for all involved.

    As for campaign contributions, you are more than welcome to view my filings with the State Board of Elections, before you make anymore scurrilous accusations!

    Veritas vos Liberabit!


    Kirk D. Smith
    Commissioner At Large
    Lee County Commission

  2. Mr. Pomeranz;

    While I found your article entertaining, it is also inaccurate. I thought you would want to set the record straight on one account.

    Back in October 2014, when I was still one of the county commissioners in Lee County, we commissioners were advised by the county manager that he had a way to threaten Duke Energy with a lawsuit and force them to pay Lee County for storing the coal ash here, as they were planning to do. The conservative majority on the board at that time was suspicious of this sort of ploy- generally detesting any form of threats against a business. Instead, we advocated studying the environmental and public health threats of storing the ash and analyzing the Duke-Charah plans for adequacy, then working with these businesses and the state to ensure all operations were done to the highest of standards.

    After the democrats took control of the board of commissioners in December 2014, the county manager was instructed to hire a legal team and and environmental engineer to help build the case for litigation with Duke. The plan was to threaten to sue, then settle for as much money as the commissioners could compel from the company (i.e., all of us who purchase electricity from Duke Power). After a series of clandestine (non-noticed and undocumented) meetings between the manager, the commissioners and Duke representatives, Duke agreed to settle short of a lawsuit. In the end, it was cheaper for Duke to do so than to fight and win a contentious and highly public case in Superior Court.

    Your premise that Duke offered a bribe is completely mislabeled. Instead, the democrat commissioners of Lee County put a gun to Duke's head and demanded payment for something the county had no right to collect under the law. Several citizens and environmental groups reportedly are seeking public records to uncover all of this shadowy activity on the part of Lee County officials. In time, more incriminating info will be revealed, I'm sure.


    Jim Womack
    Lee County

    1. Thank you for your comments. Maybe one of those with the gun will chime in...


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