Cheswick residents file suit against power plant

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The ash from GenOn Power Midwest's Cheswick plant damages houses, cars and yards, residents claim in a lawsuit that was transferred Friday to federal court.

"I think that it will be a very important case as it develops," said attorney James DePasquale, who is joining a Detroit attorney to represent the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "Look, these power plants, there are rules that they're supposed to comport with."

When they don't, he said, "It's not fair to the homeowners. It lowers the value of their homes. It makes their lives miserable."

Regulators, though, said the plant is in compliance with its Allegheny County emissions permit and with federal rules.

"This particular GenOn plant has installed the best available pollution control technologies, and those controls, along with tight limits that are set under the facility's Clean Air Act permit, will address particulates" and other pollutants, Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Terri White wrote in an email response to questions.

Springdale residents Kristie Bell and Joan Luppe filed the complaint in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in April, seeking class action status. It was not successfully served, expired as a result, was reinstated last month and then was served on GenOn.

The company moved it to federal court, where the plaintiffs are seeking to have it certified as a class action complaint.

Mr. DePasquale said that prior to filing suit, his firm sent surveys to Springdale and Cheswick residents "and had a couple hundred replies, almost all of which were scathing in their assessment of what was going on to their property, and some [concerned about] their health, because of that power plant.

"Many of them indicate that it's in fact getting worse," he said.

The county Health Department in the winter of 2010-11 allowed the plant to operate for three months without full emission controls while a scrubber was repaired. Since March 2011, though, it has been in compliance with its county permit, and it has around two years to comply with new, stricter federal standards, according to the department.

The lawsuit said that at least 1,500 households near the plant are beset by "fly ash, barium compounds, copper compounds, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, hydrochloric acid ... hydrogen fluoride, lead compounds" and other substances created when coal is burned.

The plant has "installed limited technology" to reduce emissions, it said.

Ms. Luppe has lived in Springdale for 14 years, and is raising children there, Mr. DePasquale said. "She's complaining about black particulates and sulfur odors," he said. Her children get headaches, he said.

Ms. Bell has lived there for five years and is "complaining about sulfur odors as well, black particulates, white particulates, burning odors, can't sit out on her front porch or back porch," Mr. DePasquale said.

Ms. Bell and Ms. Luppe could not be reached for comment.

Mr. DePasquale said the lawsuit focuses on property damage rather than health effects because if it alleged health effects, "you need to have medical documentation to back it up. ... That is something that may come on down the road."

He is working with Detroit attorney Peter Macuga on the case.

GenOn's attorneys wrote in their filing shifting the case to U.S. District Court that "the amount in controversy is at least $37,500,000" based on the potential number of plaintiffs and the chance that they could seek at least $25,000 plus punitive damages. Because of the magnitude of the claim and the fact that the plaintiffs are Pennsylvanians while the company is based in Texas, the matter should be heard in federal court, they wrote.

GenOn's attorney, Paul K. Stockman, could not be reached for further comment.

GenOn spokeswoman Karla Olsen declined comment on the lawsuit.

neigh_north

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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