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Few show support for AK at hearing

By Thomas Gnau Journal Business Writer

AK Steel Corp. didn’t have many friends at an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency hearing at Middletown High School Wednesday evening.

More than 20 people attended. Nine of ten speakers opposed modifying a permit which the agency says will let AK increase the amount of free cyanide in wastewater discharge from Middletown Works to the Great Miami River.

Before the hearing, AK retiree Curt Compton pointedly asked if the agency miscalculated the company’s permit limits nearly a decade ago. AK has said it wants to correct an agency mistake, not increase cyanide amounts.

“If the (agency) had not made a mistake nine years ago, would we not be here tonight?” said Compton, a Middletown resident.

“I don’t think any errors were made,” said Mary Osika, of the agency’s Division of Surface Water in Dayton, adding moments later: “We understood how the limits were calculated nine years ago. So did the company.”

Agency representatives stuck to that argument after the nearly two-hour meeting.

“The companies are supposed to give us the numbers for the permits,” said Andy Thompson, an agency spokesman. He added that AK “gave us the flow rate they wanted.”

When pressed on whether he thought AK made a mistake, Thompson said he didn’t think there was a mistake.

“I’ll reiterate that they used the wrong flow rate” when crafting AK’s 1992 discharge permit, AK Vice President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy said Tuesday.

He has said AK discovered the error but the agency refused to correct it when AK’s permit was renewed in 1997. After appealing to a state environmental review commission, the agency agreed to settle the issue in AK’s favor in May 2001, he has said.

“We are not asking for more flow than is there today and has been there for years,” he said.

Asked if the new limits would affect human or aquatic life, Jim Simpson, unit manager in the agency’s Dayton office, said, “They should not, no.”

Osika said AK has not exceeded cyanide limits since early 2000. The company monitors its own discharge, but the agency conducts inspections, too, she said.

She said she visits Middletown Works from one to 12 times a year.

“They’re not proposing ... any significant increases in their discharge,” Osika said.

Marilyn Wall, of the Sierra Club’s Ohio chapter, said AK’s own reports show it can meet current limits.

“This raises fundamental questions as to the need to raise the limits,” she said.



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