PITTSBURGH - The Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment will likely be no more by the close of 2016.
In a complaint filed Friday with the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection alleged FirstEnergy Generation Corp. "has failed to conduct required ground water assessment and abatement actions" required under the department's regulations, FirstEnergy's operation permit and a 2006 consent order, according to court documents.
The DEP maintains there is a potential for contamination in ground waters and surface waters near the site and analysis of samples taken both by the DEP and FirstEnergy indicate a measurable increase in contaminants, including arsenic, may be occurring, according to court documents.
SET TO CLOSE – The Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment, seen in this file photo, straddles the West Virginia-Pennsylvania state line near Chester and Shippingport, Pa. Under a consent decree filed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Friday, the impoundment will close by the end of 2016. -- File photo
In addition to the complaint, the DEP also filed a consent decree. Once approved, the consent decree would require FirstEnergy to submit a plan to close Little Blue by Dec. 31, 2016. As part of this plan, FirstEnergy will study the feasibility of capping the impoundment, reducing the size of the impoundment pool and installing pumps, a liner or slurry walls to prevent future contamination of ground or rain water. FirstEnergy also will evaluate the safety and stability of the dam, according to records.
The company also will offer connections to a public water system to 21 homeowners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, at no cost to those homeowners, within two years. The company also is to offer to test drinking water wells within a half mile of the impoundment if directed by the DEP, according to court documents.
FirstEnergy also will monitor the ground water and air quality near the impoundment, submitting quarterly reports to the DEP. FirstEnergy will be required to test for ammonia-nitrogen, bicarbonate, calcium, chloride, fluoride, chemical oxygen demand, nitrate-nitrogen, pH, specific conductance, sulfate, total alkalinity, total dissolved solids, total organic carbon, turbidity, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, sodium, total and dissolved concentrations of barium, boron, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, silver, zinc, arsenic, molybdenum, thallium and cyanide. The company also will test for fugitive particulates in the air and install a meteorological monitoring station near the impoundments, according to records.
First Energy is directed to submit a plan to address modifications and additions to collection facilities in Lawrenceville to abate impoundment seeps to both the Pennsylvania and West Virginia DEPs, according to records.
Also, the company will determine how to address or mitigate potential environmental impacts at the impound and pay a civil fine of $800,000, according to the Pennsylvania DEP.
"This proactive move is aimed at addressing comprehensively for the future long-standing matters about the Little Blue Run impoundment," said Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Mike Krancer. "We believe this will not only make major strides in environmental projects for the area, but also bring peace of mind to many residents who have expressed concerns about the Little Blue Run impoundment."
FirstEnergy representatives didn't immediately return calls for comment Monday.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection ceded responsibility to the Pennsylvania DEP in the matter, according to John Poister, DEP Southwest Regional Office.
Once approved by the court, there will be a 30-day public comment period before the consent decree is finalized. FirstEnergy is to provide copies of the seep monitoring reports and biannual progress reports to the Green Township, Pa., secretary.
These actions came 59 days after the Little Blue Action Group, formerly Citizens Against Coal Ash, in conjunction with the Environmental Integrity Project and Public Justice, issued notice of a lawsuit against FirstEnergy May 30, alleging seeps and leaks from the impoundment were putting public and environmental health and safety at risk, according to reports.
At the time, FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young maintained the company remained compliant with its operating permits and operated Little Blue in a environmentally responsible manner. She added drinking water in the area hadn't exceeded mandated levels, and the company didn't believe the impound impacted fish or wildlife.
Richard Webster of Public Justice said the DEP's complaint and the consent decree precludes their further legal involvement, but the agencies would continue to monitor the situation.
"This is a start," he said, adding the groups would review the consent decree and give suggestions during the comment period. "There has to be some follow through."
Lisa Widawsky Hallowell of Environmental Integrity said, when the groups filed their notice, they hoped a state agency would step in.
"This is what is supposed to happen," she said. "This is why there is a waiting period. We're glad it happened, because the states don't always step in. However, there is more work to be done."
The Little Blue Regional Action Group called Little Blue "the nation's largest coal ash impoundment," alleging more than 20 billion gallons of coal ash have been disposed of at the site.
"For years, we have known that the toxic coal ash in Little Blue Run was poisoning our drinking water and our environment," said Curt Havens, action group vice president. "We appreciate that the Pennsylvania DEP appears to be taking action to stop FirstEnergy from continuing to pollute our community, and we are going to continue to work to ensure that all current sources of pollution from this site are cleaned up and all future contamination is prevented."
Little Blue, an unlined impoundment at which coal fly ash and flue gas desulfurization waste from the Bruce Mansfield power station is deposited, is located on the West Virginia-Pennsylvania state line, near both Chester and Shippingport, Pa. A seven-mile underground pipe transports the waste, as slurry, from the plant to the 1,700-acre impoundment. The original permit was granted in 1974 to Dravo Corp., before either Pennsylvania or federal regulations required installation of a liner, according to court documents.
(Business editor Linda Harris contributed to this report.)