The largest coal ash impoundment in the United States -- Little Blue Run in Beaver County -- will be closed and capped and mostly contained by its owner three years earlier than the company first proposed, under a new plan announced by the state Department of Environmental Protection Thursday.
The closure plan now requires Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Generation LLC to complete all of the state-required work at the 1,900-acre impoundment by the end of 2028. A December 2012 federal consent order required the company to stop disposing of coal ash by the end of 2016, in part because seepage of pollutants from the unlined impoundment has contaminated groundwater and surface water in the area.
"We want to see it done sooner rather than later," said John Poister, a DEP spokesman. "It's a big undertaking, but we think that it can be done in a little less time than FirstEnergy wanted, so we pushed for that."
FirstEnergy submitted a closure plan in October 2013 that the DEP said contained more than 160 deficiencies, including a failure to acknowledge arsenic contamination of groundwater around the impoundment.
The new plan approved by the DEP requires the company to increase the number of groundwater and surface-water monitoring points from 74 to more than 300, control noise, odors and particulate emissions, conduct quarterly reconnaissance of contaminated water seepage from the impoundment and take corrective actions when seepage is found. FirstEnergy must also remediate contaminated groundwater around the site and conduct post-closure monitoring and maintenance "for as long as environmental problems remain at the site," the DEP said.
The DEP is requiring FirstEnergy to cover the ash with two layers of impermeable "geotextile" sheeting to keep precipitation from leaching into the ash and leaching unhealthy chemicals -- including sulfates, sodium, calcium, magnesium, chloride and arsenic -- into the groundwater.
The aquamarine impoundment was built in 1975 and sits astride the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and next to the Ohio River.
It is filled with 20 billion gallons of coal ash and smokestack scrubber waste from FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield power plan in Shippingport, Beaver County.
Stephanie Walton, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman, said closing the impoundment will cost an estimated $169 million, which is also the amount of the financial assurance bond posted by the company.
The DEP said the bond, which is required to ensure all work is properly completed, is the largest ever required by the state for a waste management facility. The state will hold the bond until all closure work is completed and as long as monitoring continues at the site.
After Little Blue shuts down at the end of 2016, Ms. Walton said FirstEnergy plans to dispose of the approximately 3.4 million tons of ash Bruce Mansfield produces each year by putting it on barges and shipping it 96 miles up the Ohio and Monongahela rivers to a former strip mine and waste coal site at La Belle, Fayette County.
She said FirstEnergy and the owner of the La Belle site, Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc., have applied to the DEP for permits and are awaiting department approval.
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