The two parties in a lawsuit filed in 2013 over a coal refuse disposal site in LaBelle have agreed to a one-year moratorium on ash placement and will work to develop steps to better prevent dust and water pollution.

Citizens Coal Council (CCC) and Matt Canestrale Contracting Inc. of Finleyville in Washington County entered into an interim agreement on June 23 to administratively close the lawsuit against the company for one year and to continue settlement negotiations.

In 2013, the CCC filed the suit in federal court against the company, which owned and operated the LaBelle Coal Refuse Disposal Area in Luzerne Township, Fayette County, alleging the company has a history of polluting on the dump site.

The agreement states the company will amend its reclamation plan to limit the amount of material to complete the reclamation plan, limit their coal combustion byproducts activities and operations to daylight hours only, maintain dust suppression in accordance with appropriate professional standards and maintain a ground water monitoring point.

“My thought was, I was glad they delayed it for now, but my concern is about the fly ash that was already up there and will it be blowing around this summer?” said Dave Daugherty, 53, of East Millsboro.

Daughtery said a lot of the damage has already been done in the small town of a couple hundred residents.

“It (the ash) has caused a lot of sickness and death around here,” Daugherty said. “Quite a few people died from cancer.”

Daugherty said he had a cancerous tumor in his bladder and his wife, Jayne, 53, has cancer.

“I lost of couple of my friends up the road,” Daugherty said, adding between the ash in the air that looks like a light fog on windy days and the waste runoff that’s in the water, the town is surrounded by toxins. “It’s sad. It’s very sad.”

The agreement also has the company paying 39 surrounding households each a one-time sum of $640 for reimbursement for home cleaning and repair totaling $24,960, paying $75,000 to Public Justice P.C. as the council for CCC for legal costs in the lawsuit and paying the CCC $5,000 for a beneficial use to the site as the CCC sees fit.

“This is a tremendous step forward, but we’re hoping for a much bigger and more permanent solution to the environmental issues that the LaBelle community faces in the future,” said Richard Webster, an attorney with Public Justice. “We are determined to use this year’s reprieve from litigating against the property owner to ensure that LaBelle residents are permanently protected from water and dust pollution caused by the site.”

The site consists of 506 acres where 362 acres are affected by coal refuse disposal activities as well as a reclamation project that involves disposing of approximately 200,000 tons of coal ash per year on top of 40 million tons of coal waste.

The CCC alleged activities on the site has led to water pollution in the Monongahela River from unauthorized discharged of polluted mine drainage and air pollution from coal ash emitting from uncovered trucks.

Matt Canestrale Contracting, owned by Matt and Lorraine Canestrale of Belle Vernon, has denied the allegations in the suit. The agreement between the two parties neither proves nor disproves any disputed claim in the lawsuit, according to the agreement.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan ordered the two parties to abide by the terms in their interim agreement following a conference with the parties on June 7 and a phone status conference on June 20.

The agreement also states that the CCC will not file a lawsuit related to the alleged violations on the site.

“This doesn’t completely remedy the pollution at the site, but it is definitely a step in the right direction toward cleanup,” said Aimee Erickson, executive director of the CCC.

While Daugherty is glad about the news of the moratorium, the temporary victory is bittersweet.

“I have my doubts that it will change,” Daugherty said, adding that he and his wife and friends and neighbors are part of a community too small to matter and with not enough money to do much about it. “Life is about money. Whoever has the most money wins, whether it’s good or bad.”

Daugherty said if more people were affected by the pollutants and enough voices are heard, then maybe there would be a better chance of stopping the dumping operation.

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