DEP to keep close watch on dumping at Fayette County site
State regulators are starting close monitoring of a coal waste site in Fayette County that has a history of environmental violations and a brand new deal to take more waste from the state's largest power plant.
The Department of Environmental Protection will be on site to see everything from delivery to dumping of coal ash at the LaBelle CRDA site in Luzerne, owned by Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc., a DEP spokesman said on Thursday.
The company had about 20 violations in five years, with neighbors complaining about a relentless gray dust and new health problems since the operation started more than a decade ago, prompting the increased scrutiny. CRDA stands for coal reclamation development area.
“We want to see the entire process,” said John Poister, the DEP's regional spokesman in Pittsburgh. “For the most part these are what we consider minor violations. They're what we consider dust control problems. ... Taken as a whole, it is a lot of violations.”
Canestrale could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Bill Gorton of Kentucky, said he was not aware of the new oversight plan and stressed that company had resolved all of the state's citations. The company is using the coal ash to act as cement and stabilize the site, a 100-year-old waste coal pile.
Neighbors within a mile of it say everything from windowsills to indoor furniture gets covered in dust from ongoing deliveries of coal ash. They have been complaining to state and federal officials for years about uncovered trucks letting the dry waste float everywhere, dead vegetation and a litany of illnesses, from respiratory problems to kidney failure to cancer, they said.
Now they're in an uproar that the site has a new deal to take more waste, coming from the giant Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport. Its owner, FirstEnergy Corp., announced Wednesday it plans to send LaBelle about 3 million tons a year of waste that it had been sending to a Beaver County dump the state is shutting down because it polluted groundwater. Several environmental groups including the Sierra Club are putting public support behind protests from Luzerne residents.
“There are times when it looks like a Sahara Desert dust storm,” said George B. Markish, 75, who lives about 500 yards from the site. Both he and his wife have fought cancer in recent years, he said. “I can't say that caused it wholly, but for Christ's sake I know it doesn't do me any good. ... I understand they have to do something with it, but haven't we been dumped on enough?”
It will be up to Matt Canestrale Contracting to resolve any issues with the Department of Environmental Protection, said FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin. The company already sends some waste to LaBelle and did examine its operations before finalizing the new deal, Durbin said. Both he and Gorton blamed the environmental groups for the pushback against sending waste to LaBelle.
If the DEP approves it, LaBelle could start taking Bruce Mansfield's waste in 2017, according to FirstEnergy.
“I think that's good news,” said Gorton, adding that it would speed up LaBelle's stabilization so that dumping there might end within 5 to 10 years.
“It's very easy for (residents) to make unsubstantiated claims. Look, they've been living below an unreclaimed gob pile for 40 to 50 years, and that's a highly industrialized valley that they live in.”
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.