The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

October 15, 2013

Landowners sue FirstEnergy over waste

MORGANTOWN — More than 50 West Virginia and Pennsylvania property owners are suing FirstEnergy over groundwater pollution, soggy yards and foundation damage they blame on a leaking coal ash impoundment and the 7-mile waste pipeline that feeds it.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Wheeling accuses the Ohio-based power company of negligence, reckless conduct, trespass and creating a nuisance. The plaintiffs demand unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

FirstEnergy had not formally received the complaint as of Monday afternoon, spokeswoman Stephanie Walton said in an email, but a closure plan for the unlined 1,700-acre Little Blue Run impoundment is under review by Pennsylvania regulators.

The planning and design work for a gradual shutdown of the facility straddling Beaver County, Pa., and Hancock County, W.Va., is already underway, she said.

The pit takes waste from the coal-fired Bruce Mansfield power plant in Shippingport, Pa., which is run by subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. The complaint says the pit holds more than 20 billion gallons of slurry, a soupy mix of combustion waste products.

The lawsuit — filed last week — also says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated the structure a “high hazard” impoundment, meaning a failure would likely result in fatalities. Some 50,000 people could be affected by a breach and flood.

The complaint says FirstEnergy is pumping arsenic, boron, selenium and other substances hazardous to humans into the pit in violation of a federal discharge permit and the Clean Water Act.

It also says monitoring by FirstEnergy and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has indicated the presence of arsenic in groundwater near the impoundment, and chlorides, sulfates and other substances in groundwater indicate that the impoundment is the source.

People who live near the site also say that the air has been fouled by the noxious odors of hydrogen sulfide gas, and that FirstEnergy has failed to address the problem despite multiple complaints from residents and notices of violation from the Pennsylvania DEP.

FirstEnergy has been cited so many times that its conduct should qualify as willful and reckless, the lawsuit says.

The pit is unlined because linings to protect groundwater weren’t required when it opened in 1974. Seepage and leaks have since created constantly wet conditions in yards, the property owners say, spawning mold in homes and allowing foundations to shift and crack.

FirstEnergy has already purchased at least 12 homes in Lawrenceville, W.Va., and installed a pumping station and pipelines to get contaminants back into the impoundment.

In May 2012, the Environmental Integrity Project notified the utility of its intent to sue.

Since then, the complaint says, the Pennsylvania DEP has written multiple violations for illegal French drain systems that diverted contaminated water into streams, failure to do required groundwater monitoring and failure to stop seepage.

In December 2012, FirstEnergy agreed to a monitoring plan with the DEP and said it would submit a plan for closing the impoundment. But the violations continued to mount.

Last month, the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project, the Little Blue Regional Action Group and the Pennsylvania communities of Georgetown and Hookstown declared the proposed 15-year closure plan inadequate because it doesn’t require the utility to remove any of the waste from the pit.

They say that would allow the contamination of groundwater to continue indefinitely.

FirstEnergy’s plan calls for a gradual closure, starting in 2017 and ending in 2032.

“Even after the impoundment is closed,” the complaint says, “FirstEnergy’s own environmental models predict that only a small portion of the contaminants would be fully removed after 250 years.”

Walton said FirstEnergy will close the pit in “a safe and environmentally responsible fashion.”

“Even after site closure,” she said, “FirstEnergy will continue extensive environmental monitoring programs at the disposal facility, including dam safety and ground and surface water monitoring.”


Text Only
West Virginia
  • Rahal: Fund VA reform ‘for our veterans’

     On the cusp of Congress’s lengthy summer break, factions sparring over legislation to strengthen health care and funding reforms for the Department of Veterans Affairs may have reached a compromise.
    Although final details are still in the works, the top two negotiators, Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., released a joint statement that said they had “made significant progress toward and agreement on legislation to make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals.”

    July 29, 2014

  • Attorney general reaches $950,000 settlement with three financial groups

    West Virginia’s attorney general has reached a $950,000 settlement with three companies over allegations of antitrust law violations.

    July 28, 2014

  • Woman convicted in teen’s slaying moved

    A Monongalia County teenager has been transferred to a state prison to complete her sentence for the slaying of another teenager.
    The Lakin Correctional Center near Point Pleasant said Friday Rachel Shoaf has been booked at the Division of Corrections prison. Shoaf turned 18 last month and had been held in a juvenile facility.

    July 26, 2014

  • Board suspends clinic operator’s license

    A West Virginia board Friday suspended the license of the operator of a pain management clinic where investigators found syringes were being reused. It was the second disciplinary action involving the doctor’s license within a decade.

    July 26, 2014

  • Candidates: Leave global warming debate to scientists

    Two West Virginia congressional hopefuls said during their first candidate forum matchup Thursday that the global warming debate is better left to scientists.
    Democrat Nick Casey and Republican Alex Mooney added that other countries should step up in reducing carbon emissions.

    July 24, 2014

  • Lawsuit filed over Dirty Girl Mud Run

    A lawsuit has been filed against the producers of a run that was canceled in Charleston in which participants were told they wouldn’t be issued refunds.

    July 24, 2014

  • WVa. man sues GM over wife's death

    A West Virginia man has filed a lawsuit against General Motors Corp., claiming a defective ignition switch in a Chevrolet Cobalt caused a 2006 accident that killed his pregnant wife.

    July 24, 2014

  • Feds commit to health studies on spilled chemical

    After largely dismissing the possibility of long-term health problems, federal officials will conduct more studies on chemicals that spilled into West Virginia’s largest drinking water supply in January.
    In the next two months, federal health officials are also heading back to West Virginia.

    July 24, 2014

  • Park Service assesses impact of W.Va. attractions

    Four National Park Service attractions in West Virginia drew a total of 1.5 million visitors last year.

    July 23, 2014

  • This weekend's 'Dirty Girl' race canceled

    Organizers of a Charleston running event that was canceled for this weekend says it won’t issue refunds.

    July 23, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads