Forward residents not satisfied with states latest fly ash proposal

By ERIC SLAGLE Daily News Staff Writer Forward Township residents affected by a fly ash slide in 2005 say the states latest proposal to clean up a portion of a hard-to-reach valley filed with remnant ash is too little effort coming too late. The residents and others at Gallatin Sunnyside Fire had an opportunity to express their views Thursday at a state Department of Environmental Protection public meeting and hearing on the latest cleanup effort, which could get under way in October or November. I believe it when I see it, said resident Tim Lenhart, who is one of 30 people who sued the state over what they said was improper cleanup of their neighborhood in 2005. He said plans to clean the creek are fine, but he'd rather have fly ash removed from his yard and home. Lenhart said one of his daughters moved away from home after the slide occurred because the mate material was making her sick, and that his other daughter, who lives at home, suffers from asthma aggravated by the fly ash, which flares up every time I cut the grass. The DEP wants to remove ash located along slopes of a stream that runs along Rostosky Ridge Road. Recent logging activity has exposed the ash, which contains small amounts of arsenic, and the DEP is concerned the material, which it considers hazardous substance, could run off into the channel. If the project gets under way after the public comment period ends Oct. 3, the effort would be the third in the township to clean up the ash since January 2005. The first emergency response happened right after the slide in the residential neighborhood along Rostosky Ridge Road. In 2006, the DEP removed 40,000 tons of fly ash from the hillside along River Hill Road, which was where the slide began. The DEP said total cleanup efforts so far have cost about $2 million. The ravine the DEP now wants to clean and restore is located between the first two cleanup areas. The logging, which aggravated the problem and has since been ordered to stop by the DEP, has resulted in roads that may make the ravine more accessible, Project Manager Terry Goodwald said. Goodwald said a small piece of heavy equipment, such as a Bobcat, probably would be used by cleanup crews to get into tight areas of the ravine. A slide would be installed through the ravine to facilitate removal of the ash, and a staging area for loading the material onto trucks would be created along Malarie Lane, he said. Township Supervisor Tom Headley said traffic along Malarie Lane would be detrimental to the road surface. The municipality will be looking to you to restore the road, he told Goodwill. Lisa Marcucci, who spoke as a private citizen but is also a member of the environmental watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project, said the effort to clean the stream was not the resolution these people want or need. She was critical of the DEP for moving too slow to remedy a situation she said is affecting the health of residents and applying non-scientific methods to solving the problem. She said the DEP should have created a site characterization plan identifying the problems and prescribing a solution a long time ago, but it had failed to do so. DEP Assistant Counsel Edward S. Stokan said he disagreed with her assessment. You cannot argue that the department has not taken actions in response to the slide, he said. DEP officials said they still are negotiating a settlement to the lawsuit in December that identified West Penn Power and Westmoreland County Municipal Authority as the responsible parties for the ash slide. Officials said the two companies have yet to reimburse the DEP for cleanup costs. They haven't stepped up to the plate, Goodwald said. State Rep. David Levdansky, Forward Township , said the state has been responsive to the slide, supplying funds for the cleanup, but it isn't fair for taxpayers to have shoulder the whole cost. He said the companies responsible for the slide need to be held accountable. The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act authorizes the DEP to pay for the removal of the ash and recover the cost from the responsible parties at a later time. Lenhart said outside the meeting that the situation has left him stuck with a mortgage on a house that nobody would ever want to buy. They've got me handcuffed to my house, he said. Attorney Doug Blazey, who represented one of the families that sued the state, told DEP officials that the whole situation had been mishandled. You at least should be offering these people interim relocation, he said.  You're not talking about people with great wealth who can easily relocate themselves.

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