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FirstEnergy turns to dewatering to help solve waste issues at power plant

The maze of steel beams rising in the air frame a structure roughly half the size of a football field that will help keep FirstEnergy Corp.’s coal-fired power plant in Beaver County producing electricity for homes and businesses.

The facility taking shape will remove water from waste produced by the Bruce Mansfield Plant. The power plant along the Ohio River in Shippingport is the largest electricity plant in the state and fifth-largest fossil-fuel plant in the United States.

FirstEnergy expects to complete the dewatering facility by summer — in time to work out any kinks and meet a Dec. 31, 2016, state deadline for closing the Little Blue Run coal waste dump in Greene Township because of contamination. That site took waste slurry, which is lime that is used to strip pollutants from the coal emissions, and stored it in an unlined holding pond. The company agreed to stop using Little Blue Run as part of a settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection over pollution of groundwater in Beaver County and West Virginia’s northern panhandle.

The dewatering plant under construction is FirstEnergy’s answer to its problems with waste disposal from Bruce Mansfield. The facility will remove water from the slurry, leaving a dry material that the company can ship by barge to disposal sites. The water will be reused as part of the scrubbing process to clean the emissions from the power plant.

The company needs to complete construction of the dewatering facility and find a replacement disposal site for the coal ash waste from Bruce Mansfield to keep the power plant running on Jan. 1, 2017.

“It’s a challenge, but we like challenges,” said James Fitzgerald, FirstEnergy manager of special projects, who was one of several company officials that showed off the 2,490-megawatt coal plant and the construction site for the dewatering facility to journalists on Tuesday.

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The dewatering facility will process 2.5 million to 3 million tons of waste annually when fully operational, Fitzgerald said. The projected price of the project has increased from $200 million to $260 million.

On Tuesday, rain made the plant’s grounds muddy. Contractors and plant employees were busy working on the steel-framed dewatering facility, which will be 24,000 square feet and 70 feet high.

Near them, a lined area, called a coal combustion byproduct pad, was under construction. Planned to be 860 feet long when finished, the pad will be used to temporarily hold waste product in the event of a disruption at the dewatering facility. Conveyer belts will be constructed to take the slurry to barges waiting on the Ohio River for transport to a disposal site.

At the power plant, emissions from coal burning pass through scrubbers that use a lime-based solution to remove sulfur dioxide, FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Walton said. The slurry from that process — a liquid mixture that is 40 percent coal ash and 60 percent lime-based scrubber agents — is shipped by pipeline to Little Blue Run, about 7 miles away.

After the new dewatering facility removes water from the slurry, First Energy could ship the dry material by barge to one or both of the two lead disposal sites it is considering.

“At this time, we’re just trying to line up as many options as possible so that we have flexibility,” Walton said.

One is a lined landfill at its defunct Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Fayette County that closed in 2013. Of that site’s 368 acres that are permitted, 107 would be used for the Bruce Mansfield disposal. It is 113 miles on the Ohio and Monongahela rivers from Bruce Mansfield. Another option is the LaBelle mine reclamation site, which is an old coal mine where the byproduct could be used to reduce infiltration and acid runoff, Walton said. It is 97 river miles from Bruce Mansfield.

Matt Canestrale Construction operates the reclamation site, where other companies can dispose of factory waste.

On Sept. 21, the state Department of Environmental Protection approved FirstEnergy’s permit to reopen the landfill at Hatfield’s Ferry. The company is working with the DEP on the permitting process for the LaBelle mine reclamation site to certify that disposed-of materials are appropriate for mine reclamation, Walton said.

The Bruce Mansfield power plant processes 7 million tons of coal annually, which is enough to power 2 million homes, said Jim Graf, director of the plant. It employs 300 plant workers and 30 support staffers.

Some of the slurry produced at Bruce Mansfield is used to make the 500,000 tons of synthetic gypsum annually sold to National Gypsum Co., located across the street from the power plant, for its drywall production, Fitzgerald said.

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This article was written by Tory N. Parrish from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.