W.Va. residents file suit over Little Blue Run coal ash waste site

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In three years the flow of coal waste through a pipeline to the Little Blue Run dump is set to stop, but before that happens neighbors want compensation for the smell, seepage and alleged property damage caused by the mammoth waste site.

Last week, 53 residents of West Virginia's Hancock County sued in U.S. District Court in Wheeling, claiming that FirstEnergy Corp.'s coal ash dump is oozing into many aspects of their lives and will continue to do so even after a judicially sanctioned closure plan takes effect.

"FirstEnergy's proposed closure plan proposes to begin closing activities sometime in 2017 and to complete closure in 2032," wrote attorneys David A. Jividen of Wheeling and Farrest Taylor of Dothan, Ala., in a complaint filed Thursday. The contaminants in the ash slurry piped to the site from the Bruce Mansfield power plant in Shippingport, meanwhile, will be a factor for hundreds of years, they claimed.

FirstEnergy built the 1,700-acre Little Blue Run, spanning Green Township in Beaver County and Lawrenceville in Hancock County, W.Va., in 1974. Back then slurry dumps didn't need to have linings.

"It is the largest unlined surface impoundment in the country," said Kevin Madonna, an attorney with the Hurley, N.Y., firm Kennedy & Madonna, who is helping to represent the plaintiffs. "You have hundreds of seeps around it," which he said carry contaminated water onto neighboring properties.

According to the lawsuit, the 20 billion gallons of coal ash that have flowed into Little Blue Run contain arsenic, which has contaminated the ground water on which residents rely. Little Blue Run's neighbors also suffer from "constantly wet" yards and shifting foundations, mold contamination and "a noxious odor," the attorneys wrote.

"Most folks are concerned about the property values, which have vanished," Mr. Madonna said, adding that some want to move away. The impending closure won't make matters better, he said. "The peak groundwater impacts might not even be felt for the next 50 to 70 years."

He said he and allied attorneys expect to file a similar lawsuit on behalf of residents on the Pennsylvania side of the dump shortly.

The complaint said that First Energy installed a pumping station "in an attempt to pump its contaminants back into the impoundment," but it hasn't worked. The attorneys wrote that the residents live with the fear that a breach of the dam dividing the dump from the Ohio River "would likely cause the loss of human life and would endanger about 50,000 people."

The dump has been subjected to a number of enforcement actions, and last year U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer approved a consent decree between Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection and FirstEnergy. It requires monitoring of waste seeping onto properties within three-quarters of a mile of the dump, among other measures.

"There is an extensive water quality monitoring program in place," said Stephanie Walton, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy.

After the Dec. 31, 2016, shutdown of the pipeline, the company will place a liner over 900 acres of Little Blue Run, and cover it with topsoil so it can support plant growth. "It will look like a big field," she said.

She would not discuss the company's plans for disposing of the slurry after 2016, saying they weren't final. The Post-Gazette has reported that it may be transported by barge to an unlined ash disposal site at LaBelle, Fayette County.

The plaintiffs want compensatory and punitive damages for what they call negligence by FirstEnergy in not remediating the site. They accuse FirstEnergy of trespassing by releasing hazardous materials on to their properties and being a nuisance.

Their attorneys were not available for comment.

environment - neigh_west

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM


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