FirstEnergy to ship 3 million tons of coal ash annually up Monongahela, Ohio rivers

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FirstEnergy Corp. will put more than 3 million tons of coal ash and smokestack scrubber waste a year into barges and ship it 96 miles up the Ohio and Monongahela rivers to a new disposal site when it is forced to close its massive Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment on the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border at the end of 2016.

The electric utility company, based in Akron, Ohio, announced earlier this week it will ship "coal combustion by-products" produced by the Bruce Mansfield power plant in Shippingport, Beaver County, to an existing unlined ash disposal site in LaBelle, Fayette County, owned by Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc.

In recent years, FirstEnergy sought state permits to construct a new ash disposal site in Greene, Beaver County, adjacent to the unlined Little Blue impoundment -- already the largest coal ash disposal site in the U.S.

That plan ran into strong opposition by local residents, national environmental groups and the township.

Instead, FirstEnergy said it negotiated a long-term agreement with Canestrale Contracting, which owns the LaBelle site, and since 1999 has been accepting coal ash from the Mitchell power plant along the Monongahela River in New Eagle, Washington County.

FirstEnergy declined to divulge the length of the contract or its economic terms but said its change in plans was an "economic decision."

FirstEnergy also asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to certify the coal combustion materials for "beneficial use" so the material can be spread over the 360-acre former strip mine and waste coal site along the Monongahela River.

"We are working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to get the ash certified for beneficial use," Mr. Durbin said. "Initial testing results indicate that won't be an issue."

He said the company must still get Army Corps of Engineers permits to expand its docking facility at the Bruce Mansfield plant on the Ohio River and inform the U.S. Coast Guard of its plans to transport the ash by barge.

Lt. Junior Grade Alyssa McDonald, assigned to the Coast Guard's boat operation and law enforcement division in Pittsburgh, said coal ash is not classified as a hazardous material by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency so its transport on the rivers is not regulated by the Coast Guard. She also said there are no regulations requiring transportation of the ash in covered barges to prevent the ash from blowing into the rivers and river banks.

In announcing its changed disposal plans FirstEnergy said it has formally withdrawn DEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit applications seeking to expand the 1,700-acre Little Blue facility.

Coal ash slurry from Bruce Mansfield has flowed into the unlined Little Blue Run impoundment since 1974. But recent tests have found groundwater near the site contaminated with sulfates, chlorides and arsenic.

Under a consent decree approved in federal court last month, FirstEnergy must monitor air quality and stop seepage of pollutants and metals into waterways, restore or replace water supplies to any nearby property where well water becomes contaminated, pay an $800,000 civil penalty, and close Little Blue Run by the end of 2016.

"We are encouraged that FirstEnergy has decided to close Little Blue and abandon plans for expansion," said Roni Kampmeyer, a spokeswoman for the Little Blue Regional Action Group, which opposed the expansion plans. "But we don't want FirstEnergy to just push the problem onto somebody else."

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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