Power plant focus of lawsuit

August 27, 2013
FirstEnergy Corp.’s Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station on the banks of the Monongahela River - Bob Niedbala / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Three residents of Masontown filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday in federal court, claiming damages as a result of pollution from FirstEnergy Corp.’s Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station, which is slated to close in October.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh by Julius and Francine Jesso and Sheilah Novasky and seeks to represent more than 1,000 residents who live within a 1.5-mile radius of the coal-fired power plant in Monongahela Township, Greene County.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said Tuesday that the company had not yet received notice of the lawsuit and typically does not comment on litigation.

FirstEnergy announced last month it will close Hatfield’s Ferry because of the high costs of equipping it to meet new air-quality regulations as well as factors related to the weak electricity market.

PJM Interconnect, the grid operator, has asked the company to delay the closing because of issues related to system reliability. Young said the company intends to address those issues with PJM but at this time still plans to close the plant Oct. 9.

The complaint alleges plaintiffs have suffered damages and an interference of the enjoyment of their property as the result of odors, gases, chemicals, soot and other coal combustion byproducts discharged by the plant.

Fallout from the plant is described by residents “as a very heavy black particulate or black powder, or white powder/ash/dust that requires constant cleaning and that makes plaintiffs prisoners in their homes and has precluded them from full use and enjoyment of their properties,” the complaint said.

Chemicals emitted by the plant into the atmosphere, the suit notes, include arsenic, chromium, dioxin and mercury compounds, which are hazardous and known carcinogens.

FirstEnergy has failed to operate the plant employing the best available pollution technology to reduce or eliminate emissions, the suit said. Terms of its operating permit prohibit its operations from damaging private property, it said.

FirstEnergy has knowingly allowed the plant to discharge odors, particulates and contaminants that are “harmful and noxious and have caused substantial damage to, substantial loss of use of, and substantial interference with, plaintiffs’ properties,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit must first be designated by the court to be a class action, said James DePasquale of Pittsburgh, the plaintiffs’ attorney. Once it is designated a class action, notice will be sent to potential class members who have suffered damages as a result of plant operations, he said.

Previous surveys sent to residents of the area in regard to problems stemming from the plant resulted in a good response from potential plaintiffs, DePasquale said.

A ruling last week on a similar lawsuit filed by DePasquale representing residents living near the Cheswick power plant in Springdale may aid in the case regarding Hatfield’s Ferry.

The ruling issued by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals allows residents to sue the power company for damages regardless of whether the power plant is operating in compliance with federal environmental regulations, he said.

None of the three plaintiffs listed in the suit could be reached Tuesday for comment.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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