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Springdale residents complain about noise from plant smokestack

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By Michael Aubele
Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

Bob Kristof treasures a good night's sleep. To his chagrin, those have been hard to come by recently.

What's keeping him up, he said, is noise from the GenOn Energy power plant in Springdale. A little more than a week ago, the coal-fired plant returned to using its old smokestack because corrosion problems in the newer smokestack rendered its new pollution-control system inoperable.

Despite knowing the old, 700-foot-tall stack will be in use only temporarily, Kristof said he's hopeful something can be done to reduce the noise. He couldn't suggest what that might be and admitted he doubted anything will be done.

"I don't think they're going to shut the plant down just for me," Kristof said while standing on his front porch in Cheswick, about three blocks from the plant. "Is there a realistic answer• Probably not. I just want my peace of mind back."

The noise from Kristof's house along South Atlantic Avenue sounds like a distant jet engine, one that's running constantly. Some residents in Springdale and Springdale Township said the noise is worse for those who live on the hill in those communities.

Martin Garrigan of Springdale Township said he hopes to convince a third party without ties to the industry to "verify that this plant needs to be operating."

GenOn told Allegheny County officials it needs to operate the plant to maintain electrical grid stability and create heat to prevent critical plant equipment from freezing.

The county health department has given the company until March 31 to repair its new pollution-control system — a flue gas desulfurization scrubber — and put it back online. It can use the old stack until then.

For several years, residents bothered by the noise battled for relief. The outcry started in 2003 when a pollution-control system at the plant malfunctioned. In 2007, then-owner Reliant Energy installed sound-dampening equipment that reduced the noise to what Kristof said at the time was an acceptable level.

Kristof said last week the noise was even less of a problem when the new scrubber started operating in June.

During a routine shutdown for maintenance in October, the company found corrosion in some of the components of the scrubber. The plant didn't operate between then and a little more than a week ago.

GenOn spokesman Mark Baird said the company has heard from concerned residents and welcomes calls and written comments.

"We are continually analyzing that data," he said.

Beyond collecting input, the company isn't taking any action at this point, Baird said.

"It's a temporary situation," he said about the old stack's use.

In addition to Kristof and Garrigan, there have been other area residents who voiced complaints about the noise to the Valley News Dispatch.

At the same time, there are those who said they aren't bothered by the noise.

Dave Finley and John Molnar, councilmen in Springdale, said the noise isn't an issue for them.

"It's not a problem for me," Finley said. "Truthfully, it didn't bother me before."

He said the borough isn't taking action against GenOn.

Guillermo Cole, county health department spokesman, said the county doesn't have a noise ordinance. The county does monitor emissions, he said. He added the plant isn't violating any emissions restrictions.

Environmental watchdogs have said they'll keep an eye on emissions from the plant while the scrubber is being repaired.

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