Earlier this week, the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced that Duke Energy is required to drain all 31 of the company’s coal ash ponds across the state. For decades, ash from coal-fired power plants has been mixed with water and stored in unlined ponds. In 2014, an ash spill into the Dan River exposed the potential for heavy metals from the coal ash to enter and contaminate the water supply, including groundwater. Some of the worst ash-contaminated groundwater in the country has been found near Duke’s Allen power plant on Lake Wylie. Real life mermaid’s distance swim to bring awareness to the plastic problem in our oceans The Blue Ridge Hiking Company, owned by accomplished Appalachian Trail thru-hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis, is expanding their operation to include a hiking and backpacking store in downtown Asheville, NC and a bunkhouse on the Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs, NC. The Asheville retail location at 70 College Street opens April 5 and will carry an inventory of backpacking and hiking gear handpicked by experienced long distance hikers. Blue Ridge Hiking Company opens new store in Asheville, NC and new hiker hostel in Hot Springs, NC Of the 16 total coal-fired plants that once existed in North Carolina, Duke has closed nine. The company has indicated that they plan to close their seven remaining coal plants in the next 30 years. Duke Energy ordered to relocate all coal ash to lined landfills in NC The company’s Appalachian Trail bunkhouse, located in a converted double-wide called “The Appalachian Trail-er,” opened April 1 in Hot Springs. The location serves as a hub for the company’s guided backpacking trips as well as a bunkhouse and gear rental shop. The bunkhouse will also offer shuttles for hikers. DEQ has ordered Duke to dig up the ash and move it to lined landfills. Duke has said that cleaning up the ash will take decades and cost billions of dollars, and that the cost of cleanup will likely be passed on to customers. Open water swimmer and Tokyo 2020 Olympic hopeful Merle Liivand of Estonia will swim two miles around the Miami, FL island of Di Lido while wearing a mermaid tail to draw attention to the plastic pollution problem plaguing our oceans. Liivand lives and trains in Miami and has decided to celebrate her birthday by undertaking the challenging swim to advocate for the ocean. Liivand hopes that when kids and adults see a real mermaid swimming in the ocean off of Miami they will be begin to consider the environmental issues facing our oceans. About 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year. Liivand’s mermaid swim will take place on April 7.