Little Blue Run closure nears

HOOKSTOWN – Documents filed by FirstEnergy show that it is close to announcing a closure plan for the controversial Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment that straddles the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border.

The documents, some of which were on display at Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Little Blue Run Regional Action Group, show test borings, topographic details and other data relevant to the impoundment’s eventual closure in 2016.

“I hope we see a solid plan for not only closure and cleanup but also the prevention of any future contamination,” said Lisa Graves Marcucci, Pennsylvania community outreach coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project.

FirstEnergy, operator of the coal-fired Bruce Mansfield Plant in nearby Shippingport is under court order to stop disposing of coal ash byproduct material in the Little Blue Run impoundment by the end of 2016. Environmental groups consider coal ash a hazardous material and want the federal government to regulate it as such.

In the last two years, Lawrenceville residents whose properties border Little Blue Run have complained of offensive odors, an increase in mosquitoes, and drinking water and health problems they say are the result of coal ash disposal in the unlined impoundment, which has been in use since 1974. About 40 percent of the impoundment is in Hancock County.

LBRAG and the Environmental Integrity Project threatened to sue FirstEnergy in May 2012, but in July, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection filed a complaint against the utility in U.S. District Court, alleging violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The complaint said that calcium, sulfates, chlorides and “other groundwater constituents” have been found at certain locations near Little Blue Run, indicating that contaminants from solid waste within the impoundment have been entering the groundwater. It also noted the presence of arsenic in the groundwater near the impoundment.

As part of a legal agreement, known as a consent decree, between FirstEnergy and PDEP, the utility must monitor drinking water wells, locate seeps by conducting quarterly reconnaissance, and take steps to protect groundwater and surface water. On Feb. 1, FirstEnergy complied with a deadline by filing its plan to reduce and prevent groundwater contamination around Little Blue Run.

Marcucci, speaking at Thursday’s meeting, said FirstEnergy’s plan, developed by Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc. of Pittsburgh, filled four binders and will take time to study. Among the items contained in the plan are:

The feasibility of reducing the size of the permanent pool in the impoundment, and the installation of a liner between the uncontaminated stormwater and the waste material.

Explanation of the presence of arsenic in seeps and groundwater originating from the impoundment.

Evaluation of flow rates and concentration of selenium and boron discharges from the impoundment at permitted outfalls.

Evaluation of the future safety and stability of the Little Blue Run dam.

FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said the utility’s closure plan will be submitted to PDEP on March 31, the deadline set by the consent decree.