HOOKSTOWN, Pa. - Cid Neverly came to Thursday's public hearing on the proposed closure of Little Blue Run armed with one question.
"Why do my family, friends and neighbors have to suffer for the bad decisions and mistakes you've made?" she said.
Neverly, 57, of Lawrenceville, came away from Thursday's hearing with a lot of information, but the answer to that one question remained elusive. She may never know why.
A sample of the geomembrane liner that will cover Little Blue Run after it is closed in 2016. FirstEnergy Generation Corp. says it will take 15 years to cover the entire 950-acre coal ash impoundment, which straddles the West Virgina-Pennsylvania line. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Neverly was one of about 100 people who attended the hearing seeking answers about the environmental impact of Little Blue Run, a 1,700-acre impoundment used by FirstEnergy Generation Corp. for the disposal of coal ash waste from its Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, Pa.
The impoundment must be closed by Dec. 31, 2016, per a consent decree between FirstEnergy and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP). The closing is necessary, according to the decree, because of evidence of groundwater contamination around the impoundment, including the presence of calcium, sulfates, chlorides and "other groundwater constituents."
Pennsylvania and West Virginia residents who live near the impoundment and who attended Thursday's hearing got their first look at FirstEnergy's closure plan, including maps showing confirmed areas of groundwater contamination.
One map compiled by PDEP geologist Jeff Smith showed 29 areas of contamination in Lawrenceville alone. Smith said the monitoring stations installed since January as part of the consent decree are checked regularly and reveal a pattern of groundwater degredation in the residential areas around Little Blue Run.
Residents at the hearing, many of whom have wells, complained that their health is at stake because they rely on the groundwater for drinking water. Other residents complained about foul odors, mosquitoes and lowered property values.
"We have worked hard all our lives, and we have the right to build a new home, plant a garden and eat from it," Neverly said. "We have the right to sit out on the porch at night without having an odor that burns our eyes and throat and being eaten up by bugs. We had a beautiful acre of land, and a big part of it is marsh land now. We have that right, and you've taken that away from us by making the decisions you've made."
Neverly, who has lived on Doberman Drive since 2001 and who gets her water from the city of Chester, said seeps behind her garage have been traced to Little Blue Run, although testing by Smith has not revealed high levels of contaminants. She said the mosquitoes are sometimes unbearable.
"You stand outside for a couple minutes, and you just get bitten up," she said.
Penny Farnsworth Haun, 58, also of Doberman Drive, said she can't enjoy her property anymore because of the odor. "If the wind blows a certain way, you can't go outside," she said.
Haun is convinced her husband Bruce's health problems, including a recurring battle with cancer, can be traced to living close to Little Blue Run for the last seven years. "I want (FirstEnergy) to buy me out so we can do something together before he passes away," she said.
Thursday's public hearing, in which testimony was taken, was preceded by an open house in which PDEP and FirstEnergy officials described the closure process. FirstEnergy senior scientist David Hoone said the closing of Little Blue Run will be done in stages.
Hoone said the impoundment will be covered by a geomembrane liner, a cushion geotextile and one foot of topsoil and vegetation. The first sections to be covered will be those in Hancock County and the south end of the impoundment, he said.
Also speaking Thursday were representatives of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, that have been critical of FirstEnergy's coal ash disposal practices and PDEP's oversight.
Those groups want FirstEnergy to be forced to monitor the area for 30 years after the closing of Little Blue Run.