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Group wants stricter Little Blue cleanup timelines

September 19, 2012
By STEPHEN HUBA - Special to the Herald-Star , The Herald-Star

CHESTER - A legal agreement between FirstEnergy and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection does not go far enough to ensure the cleanup and closure of the Little Blue Run impoundment east of Chester, a local environmental group said Tuesday.

Paperwork filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of the Little Blue Regional Action Group faults the state for not imposing stricter deadlines and requirements on FirstEnergy in the ongoing effort to close Little Blue Run.

The groups were commenting on a July consent decree between Pennsylvania and FirstEnergy mandating that Little Blue Run be closed by the end of 2016. Little Blue Run is used by FirstEnergy Generation Corp., operator of the Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, Pa., to dispose of the coal ash byproduct that results from the process of burning and cleaning coal.

"We still view the consent decree as a very important and welcome first step," said Lisa Graves-Marcucci, coordinator of community outreach for the Environmental Integrity Project. "We feel there were some issues that were not spelled out and dealt with directly. We'd like to see firmer timelines for completion of the cleanup of the site."

In addition to ordering the eventual closure of Little Blue Run, the consent decree requires FirstEnergy to devise a plan to clean up contaminated groundwater surrounding the impoundment and pay an $800,000 penalty to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

A civil complaint filed with the consent decree accused FirstEnergy of violating the Pennsylvania Solid Waste Management Act, including failing "to conduct required groundwater assessment and abatement actions" regarding at least five instances of seepage in the vicinity of Little Blue Run.

FirstEnergy's action plan for seeps in the Lawrenceville area resulted in the installation of four pumping stations to intercept the seepage and pump it back to Little Blue Run.

Longtime Pyramus Road resident Curtis Havens said a PDEP official recently confirmed that a water sample taken from his property in August contained contaminants from the Little Blue Run impoundment.

Havens, vice president of the Little Blue Regional Action Group, and his wife Debbie live about 1,200 feet from the impoundment. In the last two years, they and other Lawrenceville residents have complained of offensive odors, an increase in mosquitoes and potential drinking water and health problems that they say are the result of coal ash disposal.

"Nobody wants to live here now," Havens said in an interview earlier this summer. "Some nights you can't go out because you can't breathe. It's like a desolate little town - no one goes out."

FirstEnergy has used Little Blue Run since 1974 as a disposal facility for scrubber material - coal ash - from the Bruce Mansfield Plant, the largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. The flue-gas scrubbers and other air pollution controls at the plant generate coal combustion waste, some of which is thickened into a slurry and sent through a seven-mile pipeline to Little Blue Run.

The coal ash waste material has accumulated, and the size of the lake has grown over the years. It currently covers about 1,300 acres, straddling the West Virginia-Pennsylvania line. About 40 percent of the impoundment is in Hancock County, just east of Chester.

Among the things required of FirstEnergy in the consent decree is that the utility, within two years, provide an alternate source of drinking water to residents in Hancock County and Beaver County, Pa., whose groundwater has been contaminated by seepage from the impoundment.

The Hancock County residences include: 2402 Pyramus Road, 61 Burgundy Lane, 149 Marks Run Road and 2310 Pyramus Road.

The consent decree also calls on FirstEnergy to monitor drinking water wells, locate seeps by conducting quarterly reconnaissance and take steps to protect groundwater and surface waters. A plan to reduce and prevent groundwater contamination must be submitted by Feb. 1, 2013, and a closure plan for the impoundment must be submitted by March 31, 2013.

But the Environmental Integrity Project criticized the consent decree for, among other things, not establishing deadlines for the cleanup or requiring a hydrogeologic analysis of the affected area.

"We are asking that a full hydrogeologic study be required as part of the consent decree ... so that everybody knows what's happening under the earth," Graves-Marcucci said.

FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin would not comment on environmentalist critiques of the consent decree, except to say, "It's part of the process, and they'll be looked at."

Durbin said the comments included 433 identical website submissions generated by the Sierra Club. "It just has to be taken at face value," he said.

Little Blue Regional Action Group, in its comments on the decree, said the disposal of coal ash into Little Blue Run should cease immediately.

"Due to the existing widespread ground and surface water contamination, it would be irresponsible to allow FirstEnergy to continue dumping ... at this site," the group said.

Durbin said FirstEnergy will follow the deadline set by the consent decree, which is Dec. 31, 2016. "It can't be closed sooner," he said. "We have until that date, so that's what we plan to do," he said.

An alternate, smaller disposal facility adjacent to Little Blue Run is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2016.

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