NMG members Weiss, Broome share Best of States award

NMG members Mitch Weiss and Gerry Broome, both in North Carolina, shared last week’s AP Best of the States award with a third colleague for documenting just how damaging the huge coal-ash spill at a Duke Energy power plant was.

Duke Energy officials and state regulators were trying to minimize the effects of the spill in Eden, N.C. Broome, a Raleigh photographer, and newsman Michael Biesecker of Raleigh took a canoe out on the Dan River to see the damage before any other journalists.

While they were putting the canoe in the water, a man affiliated with the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance offered to accompany them in his own canoe. He showed them to some places along the ash-choked river, including gray sludge several inches deep downstream of the spill. Up to 82,000 tons of ash had spilled into the river.

Weiss, the Charlotte correspondent, helped keep the AP ahead on the story, including working on a story revealing how the state was trying to shield Duke from lawsuits over coal ash sites the company always insisted were safe.

Those scoops pushed Duke to share its testing results with AP and, at the AP’s prodding, got Gov. Pat McCrory to finally visit the spill site days after the disaster. Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh launched a criminal investigation into the spill, issuing subpoenas for records from both Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.