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Traffic backs up on Friday behind a coal truck - which has a 25 mph speed limit - on Route 56 between Armagh and Seward.

Some East Wheatfield Township residents have grown tired of what seems like a never-ending line of coal trucks passing by their homes along Route 56.

“It’s the noise, it’s the dirt, it’s the safety issue,” said Monte Stiffler, who has lived along the road for 40 years and never has experienced traffic as heavy as it has been lately.

The increased usage is a direct result of Seward Power Plant, which opened two years ago. More than 600 trucks travel the road between 5:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., five days a week.

The power plant, owned by Houston-based Reliant Energy, is the largest waste-coal-burning plant of its kind in the world. Its contributions include the creation of 400 jobs, the reduction and elimination of area “boney” piles, and the improvement of water and air quality.

But Stiffler doesn’t want to hear it.

He said dust has created breathing problems for those living along the road, and speeding trucks have created safety issues for motorists.

“They haul in (waste coal). They clean the creeks. But they’re not worrying about my health or your health,” he said. “These people can’t get it in their heads that it’s a heath issue.”

Power-plant officials maintain they are doing everything possible to accommodate township residents.

“We definitely take this issue seriously,” said plant General Manager Richard Imler. “We make it a point that we follow up with every complaint.”

Imler said identification numbers have been added to every truck, solid tarps are required to cover truck beds, and a traffic light has been added to the busy road.

All of these precautions were taken to improve safety and living conditions, Imler said, but residents want something that isn’t an option.

“We will not be building a separate road going into the plant from Route 22,” he said.

If a new road isn’t an option, Stiffler said, Route 56 should be monitored more closely.

“They want us to do the policing,” he said. “They said, ‘If you see violators, call us.’ I don’t know how you’d identify a truck, though. The numbers are too small and the trucks are dirty.”

Imler said power-plant officials have received complaints of specific trucks, which have been addressed through a strict company policy.

“We have an enforcement policy with our truckers,” he said. “It’s above and beyond and is not required by the state.”

The policy is based on the three-strike system. Strike one is a verbal warning. Strike two is three-day suspension. And strike three is termination.

“We have terminated drivers,” Imler said, although he could not cite how many.

He also said the power plant requires specific employees to spend at least 20 hours per week watching trucks to make sure they aren’t speeding.

Township Supervisor Ken Umholst said power-plant officials have been flexible and willing to compromise. But the township can’t dictate how the power plant is run, he said.

“They’re trying,” Umholst said. “But the bottom line is that you’re going to have noise and dirt. They could very well run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They agreed to put numbers on the trucks so they can be identified, and they’re supposed to put in bigger numbers.

“I don’t know what more we can do. We can’t force Reliant Energy to build a highway.

“That’s what (residents) want them to do.”

Stiffler has one other idea: “It’s ruined my quality of life, and nobody will buy a house along this road. Buy us out if it’s such an economic boom.

“Get us out of here.”

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