As the discussion about the consequences of the coal ash residue leakages continues, there is one thing about Duke Energy about which there is widespread agreement.

It is this: the company’s employees are service-minded, hard-working, friendly folks who, in times of crisis, rush to help and perform like heroes.

So when I learned that I might have mischaracterized or misinterpreted a photo of a Duke employee taken from an airplane inspecting discharges from a coal ash pond and a deactivated coal plant on the Cape Fear River, I wanted to share a report from a friend who works in the Duke Energy legal department.

He wrote, “At the end of your article, you concluded with an allegation from a pilot that a Duke Energy employee made a ‘very impolite hand signal’ toward the people in the plane who were flying overhead. I have spoken with the Duke Energy employee at issue, …[who] explained to me that he was using his phone to take a photo of the plane flying overhead. If you look at the ‘high resolution’ photo and zoom in, you can clearly see that is what he was doing and not making the rude hand gesture the pilot says he made to the plane.”

The Duke employee, he wrote, “is a gentleman – the type of man that we North Carolinians proudly call one of our own,” and he “is understandably upset that anyone would think that he would have acted in such a disrespectful manner.”

This incident gives all of us a chance to thank this employee and his colleagues for their service and their company’s well-earned reputation for a positive partnership with the people of North Carolina.

The discharges the airplane photographs documented were later the subject of a “Notice of Violation” from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Duke Energy says the releases were in connection with necessary maintenance of pond-related equipment and were, therefore, allowed by the terms of a permit from DENR.

DENR says that its permits did not allow the discharges. Kemp Burdette, the Camp Fear riverkeeper, appeared at the recent Duke shareholders’ meeting to point out that the 61 million gallons of contaminated water discharged into the Cape Fear threatened the drinking water of communities downstream.

Whether or not Duke is found to have violated state and federal laws in connection with the Cape Fear discharge, the recent events point out a continuing and serious problem. Duke has about 30 coal ash ponds throughout the state, each one a possible source of deadly water pollution.

North Carolinians, who have long admired Duke and its employees, are entitled to receive another hand signal from the company.

A hand salute, Army style, with a “Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. No more coal ash related leaks into your waterways, accidental or planned. Never again.”