ST. MARYS - The Willow Island Power Station in Pleasants County is one of three aging coal-fired power plants in West Virginia that will be shut down later this year, FirstEnergy Corp. announced Wednesday.
Its subsidiary Monongahela Power will be retiring Willow island, the Albright Power Station in Preston County and the Rivesville Power Station in Marion County by Sept. 1. The company said 105 employees will be affected.
The decision was based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations.
"The high cost to implement M.A.T.S. and other environmental rules is the reason these Mon Power plants are being retired," said James R. Haney, regional president of Mon Power and president of West Virginia Operations for FirstEnergy.
Mark Durbin, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, said the Willow Island facility built in the 1940s is being closed, not the nearby more-modern Pleasants Power Station that was completed in 1980.
''The larger plant with the cooling towers and such will continue operations,'' he said.
Around 35 employees at the Willow Island facility will be affected, Durbin said.
Those employees will be considered for other positions at other sites, he said, adding around a third of those employees are eligible for retirement and officials will work with employees to see if that option is viable. The remaining employees would receive severance packages based on years of service, Durbin said.
St. Marys Mayor Paul Ingram said he is saddened that 35 jobs are being lost. The plant has been a part of the community for years.
''This will have an impact on the community,'' he said.
Pleasants County Commissioner Larry Barnhart has heard rumors for a while that the plant might close.
Barnhart said he worked at the plant in the 1960s and has had family work at the plant and it means something to a lot of people.
With the 35 jobs gone and the lost tax revenue, the community will be affected, he said.
The lost of any job impacts a rural community and its tax base, Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell said.
However, Mon Power has been a good corporate citizen and work is continuing at the Pleasants Power Station where more than a couple hundred people are employed.
''The amount of money the company has invested in the newer plant will ensure it will be in operation for decades to come,'' Powell said.
After talking with Mon Power officials Wednesday, Powell was assured the company would work to place affected employees in other jobs within the company that were similar to what they were doing before.
''Still, any job loss is a concern,'' he said.
Powell said the county is working on other development opportunities? Projects are in the works, he said.
''The Pleasants County Commission and the development authority are devoted to creating opportunities for other industry and to bring jobs to the area,'' he said.
Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said the plant has been a staple for many in the area. She has spoken with officials from Mon Power about what will happen to the employees with retirements, reassignments and severance packages.
Boley said she blames the new EPA regulations that make it cost prohibitive to refit the plants.
''It is much cheaper to just close the plants,'' she said.
The cost of retrofitting the plants would be passed along to the customers with higher energy bills, she said.
President Barack Obama and his administration's policies are working to eliminate coal-powered power plants, Boley said.
''This is just the beginning,'' Boley said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin joined others' assessment that the administration's goals are hurting West Virginians.
"This is another example of how the EPA is costing us good jobs in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia," he said. "When the EPA adopts regulations they continue to fail to take into account the real-life effects these rules have on hard working Americans like those who have dedicated themselves to FirstEnergy at the West Virginia locations.
''I urge the EPA to respectfully and accurately review the entire impact of their decisions - from environmental to economical - because individuals, families and communities are forever changed by their short-sighted decisions," Tomblin said.
All three plants are in the 1st Congressional District.
"Today's news is devastating for the 105 men and women and their families who will be affected by these Obama layoffs," Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said. "In 2008, President Obama promised his radical environmentalist campaign donors he would eliminate coal-fired power plants, and now we are watching it slowly come to full fruition.
''What is being called the most expensive regulation in history is having a direct effect on my constituents, and I'm taking it personally," McKinley said. "West Virginia's economy is heavily dependent on the use of coal. Consequently, protecting the jobs for men and women in the coal industry must remain our top priority.''
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he was troubled that FirstEnergy's decision will end up hurting so many hard-working employees and their families.
''We must find a balance between creating jobs in our communities and protecting public health and the environment,'' he said. ''At the very least, I hope that FirstEnergy will not rush a decision to close these plants before it is necessary, but rather allow the employees more time to transition to other jobs at the company."
The closing of the plants is symptomatic of the EPA's failure to strike a balance between the environment and the economy, said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who said his concern was for the families.
"Let me be clear, if we are going to address the EPA's overregulation, Democrats and Republicans must work together to find a common sense approach that can protect our economy and our environment; no party can do it alone,'' Manchin said.