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Inspection report shows violations at FirstEnergy waste site

A recent inspection report finding waste violations at FirstEnergy Corp.'s retired Hatfield's Ferry coal plant is adding to an argument by the Sierra Club that the site's amended waste disposal permit is inadequate.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on March 13 said it found violations with the Hatfield's Ferry landfill, located south of the plant. The landfill continues to operate even though the 1,728-MW plant was deactivated in 2013. Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club, said the inspection report found several violations, such as "a failure to measure potentially toxic water flowing out of the landfill," which makes it difficult for the DEP to determine if leaks are occurring, Earthjustice Coal Program attorney Charles McPhedran said in a March 27 interview.

The inspection report is being used to support objections that Earthjustice is making against a permit modification that lets Hatfield's Ferry's landfill accept additional coal combustion residuals, or CCRs, from FirstEnergy's 2,510-MW Bruce Mansfield plant, located about 113 miles upriver from Hatfield's Ferry. The Bruce Mansfield site currently sends the majority of its scrubber waste for mine reclamation at a site owned by Marshall County Coal Co. in Moundsville, W.Va. The remaining scrubber wastes are recycled by National Gypsum Company to make drywall, according to a Dec. 23, 2015, filing by FirstEnergy. The plant sought a replacement location to house its wastes after a 2013 consent decree from the DEP required Bruce Mansfield to stop disposing its waste at its former site, the Little Blue Run CCR impoundment, by Dec. 31, 2016.

Earthjustice appealed to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board to vacate, remand and annul the modified permit. Though no wastes from the Mansfield site have been moved to the Hatfield's Ferry landfill yet, Earthjustice is concerned about impacts to drinking water from barging coal wastes 113 miles down the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers to Hatfield's Ferry, McPhedran said.

FirstEnergy and the DEP failed to show how the modified permit will not cause water pollution, Sierra Club and Earthjustice said in their amended objections filed with the board on Nov. 12, 2015. The permit also fails to ensure the liner system at Hatfield's Ferry prevents water pollution from toxic coal ash pollutants, McPhedran said.

In a 2015 filing with the board, attorneys representing FirstEnergy called many of the claims by Sierra Club and Earthjustice "without basis in law and fact."

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Walton, in a March 27 email, affirmed that the Hatfield's Ferry site "features an extensive groundwater monitoring network and systems to collect and treat stormwater runoff and infiltration and has been safely managing CCR materials in a lined, state-of-the-art facility since 2008. The site has a strong operating record, and meets or exceeds state and federal requirements."

The company has voluntarily not shipped any coal waste material to the Hatfield's Ferry site until a separate investigation is complete. "FirstEnergy personnel recently discovered water in an area designed to monitor the performance of the Hatfield's Ferry coal combustion residual disposal facility," spokeswoman Stephanie Walton said by email. The company is working with an expert consultant and Pennsylvania DEP to determine the cause of the water. In the meantime, FirstEnergy has submitted several interim work plans to DEP and will submit its final plan before the March 30 deadline, Walton said.

The petitioners are concerned that the amended permit could lead to potential contamination of the Monongahela River, a source of drinking water downriver for Masontown, Pa., according to amended objection. The board will begin hearings on the case on Oct. 16, according to an Oct. 27, 2016, order.