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State DEP halts blasting plan at Fayette County coal waste dump

| Friday, April 12, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

State environmental regulators are taking more action at a troubled Fayette County coal waste dump, stopping a seismic testing company that had planted underground explosives there, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said on Thursday.

State regulations prohibit blasting on active mine sites, but CGGVeritas Land Inc. had drilled 130 holes and packed them all with explosives at the LaBelle CRDA, a coal waste pile and ash dump in Luzerne, DEP spokesman John Poister said.

The department ordered the company to stop work on April 8 and is considering whether to levy violations and fines, he said. The blasts could have caused landslides or cave-ins at the 500-acre dump, Poister said.

The company has removed the explosives and refilled all of the holes, he said.

“No matter how you look at it, it's a frightening proposition, and we're really glad (detonation) never happened,” said Lisa Graves-Marcucci, a community organizer with the Environmental Integrity Project who alerted the DEP that neighbors had seen the company working in the area. “Thankfully, the DEP got the information in a timely manner and reacted very quickly.”

Officials at the company, based in Paris and recently renamed CGG, could not be reached on Thursday evening.

The site's owner, Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc., did not allow CGG workers on the property, said its Kentucky-based attorney, Bill Gorton.

The DEP stepped up monitoring at the site in January because of repeated violations and a deal Canestrale struck to start taking an additional 3 million tons of coal ash annually. The company had about 20 violations in five years, with neighbors complaining about a relentless gray dust and health problems since the operation started more than a decade ago.

Gorton has repeatedly denied accusations from environmentalists and neighbors, some of whom live within 500 yards of the dump.

Canestrale has resolved all of the state's citations, and his company is doing work to help remediate the bigger environmental issues, using the coal ash as a cement to stabilize the 100-year-old pile of waste coal, Gorton said.

Chevron Corp. controls several old oil wells on the site, and its subsidiaries and contractors have keys to get inside and to check wells and empty tanks, he said.

Chevron spokesman Nathan Calvert said CGG is one of several contractors the company hired to conduct seismic testing in Fayette County, but he could not confirm whether Canestrale's property was part of that work or whether Chevron officials knew about DEP's intervention.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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