DANVILLE, Va. -

A federal grand jury was expected to meet today as part of a widening criminal probe into last month's coal ash spill.

But Tuesday night in Danville, the clean up of the Dan River took center stage.

Top leaders from the state's health and environmental departments as well as Duke Energy from North Carolina said they're all working to remove the ash.

At the end of the second meeting, the city manager summarized the cities worries through a series of questions.

He asked is the water safe to drink, are the people safe, are the river and animals safe, and how does the city repair a damaged reputation.

Leaders from Duke and Virginia spent nearly three hours answering those questions.
Duke started with an apology.

"I do want to reiterate again our sincere apology that this happened," said Mike Hughes, a top executive within Duke Energy.

The promise from Duke Energy executives to clean the Dan River and cover its cost didn't reassure a upset community.

"I drink the tap water, the drinking water. Beyond that many, many questions," said Mayor Sherman Saunders, addressing his concerns with the economy and the future of the Dan River.

Tuesday night Danville city council members voiced their concerns about the area's economy, the perception of a delayed clean up, and the river's health.
Duke leaders said it could take up to two and a half years to move the coal ash ponds along the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina, and even longer to clean the river.

They said winter weather, heavy rains, and high waters have stopped the clean up process because the river is too dangerous for teams to clean the river. That delay though, shouldn't effect drinking water even for people who drink from wells according to the company.

"If there are people not on municipal water systems and want their water tested, we are happy to do that," Hughes said.

Duke plans to take the coal ash collected by the water treatment plant and pay for any clean up from the city and state of Virginia.

They confessed there is lots of red tape, from the federal level and two states.

"We will continue to collect fish samples over the coming years," said David Paylor, the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ.

At an earlier meeting tonight, leaders from the Virginia DEQ, Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Department of Health said Virginia is taking legal action against the company after violating the clean water act.

"That's a violation of the federal law. The EPA has a claim with regards to that as does North Carolina and Virginia," Paylor said.

They again said the drinking water is safe, but warn to stay out of the river.

The focus now is removing a large clump of Coal ash collecting at the Schoolfield Dam in Danville. Duke is working with the EPA to hire a contractor to clean it up.

The DEQ director says a group of Virginia leaders are soon traveling to Tennessee to talk to state officials about clean up possibilities.

That state suffered a much larger coal ash spill in 2008.