Dave DeWitt

Managing Editor for News

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Managing Editor for News. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.

He has filed storites for NPR’s news magazines as well as Marketplace and Only A Game. He formerly worked in college athletics, college admissions, and with the Tar Heel Sports Network. In 2001, he wrote the non-fiction book "True Blue".


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sutton power plant
Duke Energy

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has fined Duke Energy more than $25 million over coal ash leaks at a retired power plant in Wilmington. 

According to DENR, it’s the largest environmental fine in the state’s history – five times higher than any previous fine. It is punishment for coal ash leaching into the ground water at the Sutton Power Plant over several years.

Contaminants included arsenic, selenium, and boron. 

Jockey's Ridge
Dave DeWitt

Governor Pat McCrory is expected to release his state budget proposal this week. It will likely spark the usual fights over Medicaid and teacher pay. But buried inside the budget will be a major reorganization of state government that could impact the millions of visitors to North Carolina’s state parks, science museums, aquariums, and even the Zoo.

The move involves the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the various attractions it manages: two science museums in Raleigh, 35 state parks, three aquariums, even Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.

Ocean Isle
US Army Corps of Engineers

Residents of Ocean Isle Beach will get a chance Tuesday to weigh in on a proposed terminal groin project.

If it is built, the Ocean Isle terminal groin would only be the second such structure built on the North Carolina coast since a ban was put into place in 1985.

In 2011, the Legislature lifted the ban on the hardened structures that are built at the end of a land mass to stop beach erosion.

A groin is currently under construction on Bald Head Island.

UNC Board of Governors
Dave DeWitt

The full UNC Board of Governors met in Charlotte this morning and voted unanimously to close three academic centers.

The centers ordered to close are: the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC Chapel Hill; the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina; and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at NC Central.

Board of Governors leadership denied that politics played a role.

hog farm
Steve Wing, UNC-Chapel Hill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is launching an investigation into the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 

The investigation will look at whether DENR was too lenient in regulating hog farms that are located near minority households. 

Residents and environmental groups have complained for years that collecting manure in lagoons before spraying onto fields is harmful and creates noxious fumes.

PHOTO: The coal ash pond at the Duke Energy power plant by the Dan River
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources

A deal has been reached to end a federal grand jury investigation into Duke Energy over the Dan River coal ash spill.

"We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event," said Lynn Good, president and CEO of Duke Energy, in a statement. "We are setting a new standard for coal ash management and implementing smart, sustainable solutions for all of our ash basins.”

Gene Nichol
UNC Law School

A committee of the UNC Board of Governors has recommended closing three academic centers and placing 13 others under review.

The seven-member committee started last year by looking at more than 200 academic centers on the 16 UNC system campuses. Together, the centers and institutes receive $69 million in state appropriations – a 40% drop from 2009.

The Dan River bank with residual dark grey coal ash.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Duke Energy says it is close to a settlement with federal authorities over the Dan River coal ash spill.

After the spill last February, U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker launched a grand jury investigation.

In an earnings conference call this morning, Duke Energy CEO Lyn Good said that a $100 million settlement could be filed in the coming days.

A Suncor Energy oil rig in the North Sea's Buzzard field, between England and Norway.
Suncor Energy via Flickr

Federal authorities will welcome the public to an open house tonight in Wilmington on a plan to open the North Carolina coast to offshore oil exploration.

The Obama Administration’s five-year plan for oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean, released last month, was derided by environmental groups for going too far and criticized by Republicans for not going far enough.

Dean Smith
UNC-Chapel Hill

Dean Smith, the legendary men's college basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has passed away. He was 83 years old.

"Coach Smith passed away peacefully the evening of February 7 at his home in Chapel Hill, and surrounded by his wife and five children," his family said in a statement. "We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as arrangements are made available to the public."

Remembering Dean Smith

Feb 8, 2015
15 Mar 1997: Coach Dean Smith of the North Carolina Tarheels gives instructions to his players during a playoff game against the Colorado Buffaloes at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Tarheels won the game 73 - 56 giving
Bo Gordy-Stith (PBoBS) / Flickr/Creative Commons

Induction into a sports Hall of Fame is a reflective moment for any athlete or coach. Nine Tar Heel players or coaches are in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and eight of them either had some connection to Dean Smith or were Dean Smith. And none missed the opportunity to thank him during their acceptance speeches:

Michael Jordan: “Coach Smith… what else can I say about him? He’s legendary in the game of coaching.”

Tom Augspurger (l), USFWS, taking core sample during February 8th reconnaissance of Dan River coal ash spill. (l-r) Tom Augsperger, USFWS, John Fridell, USFWS, Rick Smith, Duke Energy. Photo by Steve Alexander, USFWS..
Steve Alexander / USFWS

In retrospect, running a storm pipe under an unlined coal ash pit was a bad idea. One year ago today, such a pipe under such a pit leaked 39,000 tons of toxic ash into the Dan River.

A week after the spill, Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks all but admitted the design was flawed.

“It was not a design that we placed in our other plants, certainly, and it was not the original design of the plant,” he said then. “So it’s something we’ll have to look at in our investigation.”

Oil drilliing

The Obama Administration today released a proposal to possibly open the Atlantic Seaboard – including the coast of North Carolina - to oil exploration.

The proposal is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s five-year plan.

Testing from the 1980s estimated that as many as 3.3 billion barrels of oil could be off the Atlantic coast.

That estimate could be low.

Donald van der Vaart

From the state zoo to coal ash, from aquariums to climate change, the DENR secretary has plenty to worry about.

“I consider being the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources the second-toughest job in state government,” says Bill Holman, who served as Secretary of DENR in the early 2000s, under Governor Jim Hunt.

For the record, he says leading the Department of Health and Human Services is the toughest job, but DENR Secretary is a close second.

One of Progress Energy's solar energy farms.
Duke Energy/Progress Energy

Duke Energy has announced yet another solar farm to be built in North Carolina. But this one is unique: it’s the first solar farm the utility company has ever built on a military base.

The Camp Lejeune solar farm will be a 13-megawatt facility that could power as many as 3,000 homes. That is relatively small, when compared to the 65-megawatt Duke Energy facility under construction in Duplin County.

John Fennebresque
Dave DeWitt

Tom Ross was an unlikely UNC President from the outset. He had a long career as a superior court judge, with shorter stints as president of Davidson College and head of the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation.

This morning, when he faced reporters after it was announced that he would be leaving his job – or, as the Board of Governors’ statement put it, they would “begin the process of leadership transition” – Ross looked shocked and disappointed.

Tom Ross
University of North Carolina

University of North Carolina System President Tom Ross will retire from his position, effective January 2016.  Ross has led the 17-school university system since 2011. 

In a joint statement with Ross, the Board of Governors said it "decided to begin the process of leadership transition."  

Dave DeWitt

For a century, utility companies in North Carolina simply dumped coal ash in nearby pits and ponds. But within the last several decades, other states have found uses for coal ash in construction and road-building, limiting the amount that makes it into the landfills.

During its second full meeting Wednesday, the Coal Ash Management Commission heard the many ways states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and South Carolina are reusing coal ash.

A Duke Energy power plant and coal ash ponds outside Asheville.
Zen Sutherland

Coal ash and fracking will dominate the environmental headlines this year. But the story will be different in the Legislature, where as much news will be made by what’s not discussed as by what is.

Some observers believe that the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard that has been such a contentious issue in years past may not come up at all this session. It requires utility companies to generate 12.5 percent of its electricity using renewables by 2021.

The REP Standard first passed in 2007 and sustained a Republican challenge in 2013.

US Fish and Wildlife Service responds to coal ash spill on Dan River

The Environmental Protection Agency came out today with its first-ever regulations for coal ash.

The new rules treat coal ash like regular household garbage, instead of hazardous waste, as many environmental groups wanted. The EPA said the record did not support a hazardous-waste classification.

Coal ash is the byproduct when coal is burned for electricity. It contains arsenic, selenium, and other materials that can be harmful to humans.

Duke Energy
Duke Energy

A watchdog group has filed a federal complaint against Duke Energy. NC Warn says the company is keeping rates artificially high by building power plants it doesn’t need.

Duke Energy is required to keep production capacity at 15 percent above the peak day of the year. NC Warn says the company regularly has double that amount of electricity on hand.

christmas trees
Dave DeWitt

Christmas trees begin here, clinging to five-by-five foot patches of ground on the side of a soil-covered hunk of granite in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The slope dips down several hundred feet below where we’re standing. Fraser Firs of all shapes and sizes surrounded by Dutch white clover covers the landscape.

“Do you see why they call it Smokey Holler?” asks Della Deal.  “It’s a beautiful place up here.”

coal ash
Dave DeWitt

Last night, Duke Energy employees hadn’t yet set up all their tables along the walls of the first-floor hallway of the Lee County Arts and Community Center when Mark Coggins walked in.

And he was here for one reason.

“To see if we can stop the coal ash from coming to Lee County,” Coggins said.

A lifelong resident of Sanford, Coggins is not what you’d call open-minded on the issue.

coal ash
Steve Alexander, USFWS

Politicians, regulators, engineers, and commissions are trying to decide what to do with the 100-million tons of coal ash in 32 pits and ponds across North Carolina.

Before a broken storm pipe caused 33,000 tons of coal ash to spill into the Dan River back in February, most people had never heard of it.

So what is coal ash? How dangerous is it? And what are we going to do with it?

Question #1: What is coal ash?

Hofmann Forest
Historical State, NCSU Libraries

NC State University will not be selling Hofmann Forest, for now. The two firms that had agreed to buy the 79,000-acre research forest near Jacksonville could not meet its financial obligations to buy the property.

The two firms, Resource Management Service and Hoffman Forest, LLC, had agreed to pay $131 million to buy Hofmann Forest. But they ran into financial problems almost immediately after entering into the agreement with NC State.

While this contract has terminated, that doesn’t mean Hofmann Forest won’t be sold in the future.