First Energy must make environmental improvements to Hatfield’s Ferry landfill

First Energy Corp. must make environmental improvements to the coal ash landfill at its shuttered Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Greene County and begin closing portions of the site following a settlement reached with the Sierra Club.

This photograph taken by the DEP during a site inspection in February shows the shuttered Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station near the coal waste landfill in Monongahela Township.
This photograph taken by the DEP during a site inspection in February shows the shuttered Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station near the coal waste landfill in Monongahela Township.
This photograph taken by the DEP during a site inspection in February shows the shuttered Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station near the coal waste landfill in Monongahela Township.

MASONTOWN – First Energy Corp. must make environmental improvements to the coal ash landfill at its shuttered Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Greene County and begin closing portions of the site following a settlement reached last week with the Sierra Club.

The settlement finalized Sept. 14 before the state Environmental Hearing Board allows the company to continue operating the facility along the western bank of Monongahela River near Masontown and accept coal ash from other sites, although it has not done so since Hatfield’s Ferry ceased operations in October 2013.

First Energy announced in April 2015 it planned to barge coal ash generated from its Bruce Mansfield Power Plant in Beaver County, prompting the Sierra Club to appeal what the company said were “minor” changes to its solid waste permit with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The company decided last November against using the Hatfield’s landfill and instead has been sending the waste to a site in Moundsville, W.Va., since December.

The company had been required to find a new site to store coal waste from the Bruce Mansfield plant after the nearby Little Blue Run dump was closed.

Charles McPhedran, an attorney with Earthjustice representing Sierra Club in the appeal, said Hatfield’s permit remains active, leaving the door open for it to still be used one day.

“They never gave up the permit. They never relinquished the option of Hatfield’s Ferry,” McPhedran said. “The question is whether they need this landfill at all. They’ve filed a permit, but they still haven’t used it.”

The agreement does not guarantee the company won’t use the 107-acre landfill south of Route 21 in Monongahela Township at a later date, but it must first make environmental improvements, along with closing some portions as they fill up and not accepting coal ash from other sites until Dec. 1 at the earliest.

First Energy spokeswoman Stephanie Walton said those surface improvements and permit modifications include upgrading the facility’s leak detection zone.

“The facility has a strong operating record, and meets or exceeds state and federal requirements,” Walton said.

The company must also perform “rolling closures” of the Phase 3 area, the location where the DEP inspected in February and filed notices of violation a month later. McPhedran said the company also waived its ability to decline capping that portion of the site when it’s closed, meaning it eventually must be covered to protect it from runoff water.

In the near-term, a water quality permit application must be filed with the DEP within 60 days for its leachate storage impoundment caustic drip system that filters water runoff in ponds before it reaches the ground. The system is designed to prevent ponding and the infiltration of toxic metals in the coal ash into the water source.

The biggest question surrounding the future of the landfill involves whether First Energy will eventually sell Bruce Mansfield or other assets. Any new company that takes over would be required to abide by the agreement.

McPhedran said technical experts estimate it would take at least four months to get the loading docks prepared to accept coal ash.

“The longer we go, the closer we get to a decision point to Bruce Mansfield,” McPhedran said. “It’s possible, at some point, the company will decide not to ship (to Hatfield’s Ferry) at all.”

McPhedran said the future of the landfill and its environmental legacy should lead more of a discussion about renewable energy sources.

“We can spend a lot of time on coal ash landfills, but the best option is to move forward with wind and solar energy, which has great potential in Pennsylvania.”

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