July 01--SHIPPINGPORT -- FirstEnergy is still exploring options for where it will dispose of coal ash from the Bruce Mansfield power plant, but a site previously discussed in Fayette County isn't one of them.
The company must find a new location for coal ash disposal because of the pending closure of the Little Blue Run impoundment in Greene Township. Little Blue, which is the largest coal ash impoundment in the country, must close by the end of this year.
FirstEnergy has looked at several options, one of which included shipping the coal ash 100 miles by barge down the Ohio and Monongahela rivers to a small town called LaBelle.
The Bruce Mansfield plant produces 2.5 million of tons of ash annually.
The only problem is that the 250 residents in LaBelle have been living near a coal ash landfill for decades, as a company called Matt Canestrale Contracting has been disposing of coal refuse from an abandoned strip mine there.
LaBelle residents have strongly opposed any move by FirstEnergy to dispose of coal ash at the site and, according to an agreement reached earlier this week, those residents will temporarily get their wish.
According to Steve Ralls, a spokesman for Washington, D.C.-based Public Justice, the 50 families in LaBelle have agreed to a one-year stay in a lawsuit against Canestrale Contracting for a promise that the landfill won't accept any new coal ash for one year.
The residents had filed the lawsuit several years ago alleging that dust from the site, which has 40 million tons of mining waste, had been blowing into town, sickening residents and staining houses in the process.
Under the agreement between Canestrale and residents, the company will pay an undisclosed small amount to residents in LaBelle so they can clean and repair their houses. The company also agreed to treat polluted water in the area.
Residents in LaBelle, and the various agencies that are helping them, heralded the one-year agreement as a step in the right direction.
"This is a tremendous step forward, but we're hoping for a much bigger and more permanent solution to the environmental issues that the LaBelle community faces in the future," Richard Webster, an attorney with Public Justice, said. "We are determined to use this year reprieve from litigating against the property owner to ensure that LaBelle residents are permanently protected from water and dust pollution caused by the site."
Stephanie Walton, a spokeswoman with FirstEnergy, said the company is aware of the lawsuit but isn't involved in it whatsoever.
"The LaBelle site is just one of multiple options FirstEnergy is considering for future placement of Bruce Mansfield (coal ash)," Walton said. "The company continues to pursue several alternatives, including the disposal facility at the Hatfields Ferry plant, in order to have as many options available as possible."
Little Blue must cease operations on Dec. 31 as part of a state order to shut the facility down.
Jack Purcell, a solicitor who works on behalf of LaBelle, did not immediately return a call for comment.
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