An estimated 16 percent of the total fly ash produced at PPL's Montour coal-fired power plant will be used to fill a mine pit near Locust Summit over the next decade.

The plant in Washingtonville produces an estimated 250,000 tons of fly ash on average annually, according to Teri MacBride, PPL Susquehanna regional affairs director. Totals fluctuate depending on energy demand.

About 400,000 tons of fly ash is planned to fill the 6.2-acre pit in Mount Carmel Township over 10 years - or 40,000 tons each year. It's located at a Gilberton Coal mine site just east of Route 901 in the area of the former Locust Summit breaker on the Merriam Mountain. Fly ash will be hauled there beginning this fall.

There are no plans at the moment to use any fly ash from the Brunner Island plant in York Haven, MacBride said.

$40k each year in Coal Twp.

Mount Carmel Township supervisors met with PPL officials at a workshop session earlier this month. On Wednesday, the three supervisors voted unanimously to ratify an agreement that will bring the township $10,000 annually and $5.50 for each load dumped at the site.

Vince Rovito is the township's solicitor. He serves in the same role for Coal Township, which had two active fly ash operations in Burnside this decade. They yielded about $40,000 each annually, according to Coal Township Manager Rob Slaby. About 1.2 million tons have been used at a Reading Anthracite site since 2003, MacBride said. It's estimated to continue for the next two to three years. The operation on a Blaschak Coal Corp. site ended in 2013.

Reading Anthracite and Gilberton Coal belong to the same family of coal companies operated by the Rich family and headquartered in Schuylkill County.

Appeal denied

The Department of Environmental Protection granted a permit to Gilberton Coal in August 2008 to fill the Mount Carmel Township pit. An appeal was filed in December 2009 by Robert Gadinski, a Lavelle resident and licensed geologist, along with Lavelle residents Joan and Frank Burke. They feared the potential environmental impact on their residential water wells.

Five monitoring wells were drilled, but there was no requirement for residential water wells to be tested before the fly ash is deposited. Gadinski argued that without the testing, it would be difficult to prove that a potential future contamination could be attributed to the coal ash or an existing condition. He had also said that monitoring wells don't provide an accurate comparison on water quality.

Attempts to reach Gadinski for comment on Thursday were unsuccessful.

A state Environmental Hearing Board denied the appeal in May 2013. The board's ruling says the project would improve water quality by preventing the flow of surface water into a contaminated underground mine pool, and would also improve drainage and restore surface contours. Public safety would be enhanced by filling the pit, preventing someone from falling in, according to the ruling.

'Vitally important'

MacBride said the "beneficial use" of fly ash, or coal combustion product, is "vitally important to the profitability" of PPL's coal-fired plants, noting the benefits also cited by the Environmental Hearing Board. It's also used as a component of ready-mix concrete and raw kiln feed.

"If we don't use if for beneficial use, we would be wasting a resource by creating another environmental problem: disposal," MacBride said.

The ash has a powder-like consistency. It's dry when used as fill and compacts itself naturally, MacBride said. It is moistened, however, when loaded into trucks for hauling.