HOOKSTOWN - As representatives of the FirstEnergy Generation Corp. conduct information meetings in Greene Township, Pa. about a proposed coal-combustion byproduct (CCB) disposal facility, residents opposed say they are still waiting for an open forum meeting.
FirstEnergy conducted open house sessions for the public June 14 at the Hookstown Fire Department and Tuesday at South Side High, and a meeting July 6 with elected officials and other government leaders.
At those meetings, FirstEnergy had displays about the design, construction and operation of the proposed expansion at the Bruce Mansfield Plant, information on potential long-term uses for the Little Blue Run facility following its closure, and the proposed community benefits package for Green Township.
FirstEnergy officials have said as part of the expansion, the company has proposed a benefits package that ultimately could provide Greene Township with some $15 million in revenue over the next 20 or 30 years.
Roni Kampmeyer community organizer for Citizens Against Coal Ash (CACA), said the group has spent the last year asking FirstEnergy officials for a town-hall style meeting in which First Energy officials would respond to citizens' questions.
Citizens Against Coal Ash (CACA) is a grassroots group of Greene Township residents and others concerned about the effects of coal ash from Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment from FirstEnergy Corp.'s Bruce Mansfield plant. They are also opposed to the proposed expansion.
"What doesn't FirstEnergy understand about the word 'No'?" Kampmeyer said.
In an information sheet put together by CACA, members said of the company's information meetings, "We've lived with the impact of toxic coal ash for over 30 years. We know exactly what coal ash is and what it does to our health, our property, and our communities. We don't want or need FirstEnergy or their consultants trying to 'sell' us on the so-called virtues of coal ash. The only thing beneficial about coal ash is the profits for wealthy companies like FirstEnergy."
In various forums regarding coal ash or the proposed expansion at the Bruce Mansfield plant in particular, company officials have repeatedly stated opponents' claims that coal ash is toxic and/or is the cause of illness or disease are unfounded and evidence supporting those claims is inconclusive.
According to an information fact sheet from FirstEnergy on the Greene Township benefits package, officials said, "We have thoroughly evaluated all available options and selected the solution that we believe minimizes our impacts to the community and the environment, while maintaining this critical plant and associated jobs in western Pennsylvania."
Designers and First Energy representatives have said the proposed facility will be adjacent to Little Blue Run, and is needed because the Little Blue Run waste disposal facility is expected to reach capacity in five to seven years.
Little Blue Run is on about 1,200 acres. With new technology that will extract and reuse water from the coal combustion byproducts, officials said the area for which the company is seeking permits is about 300 to 350 acres.
Designers of the proposed facility said CCB starts in a slurry form. Currently CCB in that state goes into Little Blue. With the new system, fluids will be extracted, and material left will be transported by a closed conveyor system to the disposal location. Within a few days, the CCB will dry further to the consistency of chalk.
As each section of the containment area is filled, a liner will be placed on top with topsoil and some type of vegetation over it. Unlike Little Blue Run, officials said the new containment area will be lined on the bottom.
A portion of the FirstEnergy facility extends into the Lawrenceville area of Hancock County, W.Va. In a letter to Hancock County Commission, Jon Zoppelet, director of the Bruce Mansfield Plant, said the company "was pleased that more than 150 people attended the (June) event, which was an invaluable exchange of information between the company and our neighbors."
Kampmeyer said many of the concerned citizens who attended the June open house filled out comment cards provided by FirstEnergy, and stated they found the open house format confusing.
"They noted they were completely dissatisfied with the open house format," she said. "They requested, yet again, a fully open forum in which everyone in attendance is permitted to hear each question and answer."
First Energy officials expect to complete the permit process by October. The Department of Environmental Protection's permit review process, including a public comment period will take a minimum of three years, they said.
Lisa Graves-Marcucci, state coordinator of community outreach for the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), has said that on behalf of the citizens in the area of the Little Blue Run facility, she is watching for the public comment periods for the waste expansion project, and for First Energy's NPDES (water discharge) permit. She said the company has to renew the permit every five years, and the current permit expires in December.
She said EIP looks forward to the citizens' opportunity to speak. EIP will be holding First Energy accountable for those public comment periods, making sure the citizens have those windows of opportunity to present their views, Marcucci said.