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An April 27, 1978, scaffolding collapse at Willow Island in Pleasants County ranks as one of West Virginia’s worst non-mining industrial disasters and the 10th deadliest construction disaster in U.S. history. Fifty-one men were at work atop the construction scaffolding when it suddenly collapsed, sending them plunging to the ground, 168 feet below. None survived.

The scaffolding had been erected for use in the construction of a new cooling tower at Monongahela Power Company’s Pleasants Power Station, adjacent to the Willow Island Power Station on the Ohio River downstream from St. Marys. The men were preparing to pour a new layer of concrete when the scaffolding peeled away from the tower. The victims included a handful of supervisors who had come to the project from out of state, but most were local construction workers. Pleasants County became the focus of national media attention as grieving families buried their dead. One family counted four of five sons, a brother, two brothers-in-law, and three nephews among those killed.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied fines against three construction companies involved in the project, charging negligence. A federal grand jury heard evidence in the case but returned no criminal indictments.

In 2012, FirstEnergy Corporation, the parent company of Monongahela Power, announced plans to close the Pleasants Power Station, along with two other coal-fired plants in Albright, Preston County, and Rivesville, Marion County. The Willow Island plant was originally scheduled to close on January 1, 2019; however, the state legislature passed an act, signed by Governor Jim Justice, to provide FirstEnergy with $12.5 million per year in tax breaks in exchange for keeping it open. Under a settlement agreement approved by a bankruptcy court, the plant was to remain open through May 2022. The closing has now been postponed until at least June 2023.

Read the federal report on the disaster.

This Article was written by James E. Casto

Last Revised on April 27, 2023


Cite This Article

Casto, James E. "Willow Island Disaster." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 27 April 2023. Web. 20 April 2024.

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