hearing packs Oregon Council
J. Patrick Eaken
public hearing Thursday night hosted by the Ohio Environmental
Protection Agency on a draft permit for the proposed coking plant in
Oregon packed City Council Chambers to the point people were
listening to testimony via speakers in the hallway.
seats in the chamber were filled at least a half hour before the
scheduled 7 p.m. meeting was to begin. Ohio EPA officials were still
listening to testimony four hours later.
officials, most of whom would like to see the permit issued, were
allowed to speak first, so that by 11 p.m. many of those who had
registered to give testimony and had environmental concerns had
already left, leaving the administrator of the meeting, Mary
McCarron of the Public Interest Center, to call names of people who
were not there to answer.
meeting drew an environmentalist from the University of Michigan
concerned about mercury poisoning that would be emitted from the
proposed plant, a former Oregon women who moved to Michigan because
of her claims of high toxicity in the area, and local residents who
believe that assurances the coke plant will be environmentally safe
local residents remain skeptical about the "state-of-the-art"
technology that is supposed to contain pollutants. They say mercury
will be emitted from the plant, which when released into the air
will then be carried by prevailing winds and be harmful to life in
Lake Erie. It was reported that the EPA is not required to monitor
mercury levels emitted into the atmosphere.
testimony, several residents urged government officials to consider
the effect the loss of the potent Lake Erie fishing industry would
have on the local economy in comparison to economic benefits gained
from the coke plant. An advisory has already been issued asking
people to limit their intake of eating Lake Erie fish to one catch
per week due to mercury levels.
of the most heated moments of the evening was the argument over why
the EPA had expedited its review of the draft permit. Many believe
it was done to beat the approaching deadline this summer when Lucas
County environmental standards will change to non-attainment status.
Mike Hopkins of the Division of Air Pollution Control admitted the
permit was processed quickly, but said it was for economic
and officials from Toledo Environmental Services also admitted that
they did not know who the actual investors were behind U.S. Coking
Group, LLC, the company proposing to build and operate the plant.
The officials indicated it is not required for the EPA to have
information on who the investors are; the only requirement for the
permit to be processed was to have the name and address of a person
representing the firm for legal purposes.
Buchanan, Executive Director of the consumer group Ohio Citizens
Action, said in a letter to several public officials that statements
identify Frank Stella, Chairman and CEO of the F.D. Stella Products
Company in Detroit, as the lead investor of U.S. Coking Group, LLC.
Stella Products design and distribute food service and dining
Bihn, former City of Oregon Finance Director and founder of Maumee
Bay Associates, a citizens group seeking non profit status in order
to obtain funding to promote their environmental concerns, gave
statements about permits the EPA has approved which she says
continue to prove detrimental today.
noted environmental issues at Envirosafe, at the Toledo Edison
plant, and the BP oil refinery, explaining that those companies
either received permits or are still waiting for renewals to this
Smith, Oregon, handed out a statement to those in attendance at the
meeting with figures he says he researched. Smith says his
calculations along with figures from a website and City of Oregon
sources say that while the top 20 industrial polluters in Lucas
County released almost 17 million pounds of pollutants into the
environment in 2001, better than 13.5 million pounds were released
by industry within Oregon.
and Bihn say the draft permit indicates eight million pounds of
additional pollutants will be released into the environment by the
coke plant. They argue that Lucas County already ranks among the
dirtiest and worst 10 percent of all counties in the U.S. in terms
of air releases of recognized developmental toxicants.
former Oregon woman who says she moved to Michigan explained that
she did so after she was diagnosed with cancer. She then put forth
testify indicating Lucas County had an exceptional high rate of
cancer due to toxic emissions.
given by C.J. Smith found on the Environmental Defense website
www.scorecard.org indicate that in Lucas County people face a cancer
risk more than 100 times the goal set by the Clean Air
officials providing testimony in favor of the coke plant included
Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, Oregon Mayor Marge Brown, Lucas County
Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, council members from Oregon and
Toledo, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority President James Hartung,
Oregon City Schools Superintendent John Hall, Oregon Regional
Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Dean Monske, as
well as contractors and real estate agents.
public official, a man who said he was a councilman from the Village
of Harbor View, opposed the plant. He presented a resolution
unanimously passed by the Harbor View Council requesting the EPA to
consider denying the permit. He told stories of the abuse Harbor
View had undergone as a result of pollutants traveling downwind from
industry in Oregon and Toledo.
in favor of the proposed plant rely on the argument that the plant
contains state-of-the art technology and would bring badly needed
jobs to the area and help recover a disappearing industrial base.
They say the environment will not have to be sacrificed for the sake
of growth as it had been by previous
officials continue to stress the importance of the 165 permanent
jobs the plant will bring plus 1,000 construction jobs. This figure
will multiply exponentially, they explain, as money comes into the
Authority President Hartung explained the need for the rebirth of
shipping in Toledo's port, which will be partly satisfied by the
coke operation. The coke operation will import coal and export coke
via Great Lakes shipping channels as well as by rail and
plant would be built on the Port's Facility 2 property, a
brownfield. Those who want the plant say this alleviates the
possibility of the facility being built on green space elsewhere;
adding that if the plant is not built in Oregon the jobs will just
end up going somewhere else.
workers at the proposed plant are expected to be paid at the high
end of the industrial scale, say elected officials. They explain
that because coke is a raw material for the production for steel, it
is in high demand in the United States right
says the U.S. is currently losing out on the production of steel to
foreign countries. By bringing back the production of steel to this
country and Toledo, it will help satisfy numerous other aspects of
Council President Jim Sheehy spoke about his past experiences
working as a railroad engineer and the condition of a former coke plant located in the area, describing the
dust and filth of the former operation and saying he understood
concerns about coking operations. But he
assured those to trust the newer technology and the EPA's ability to
developer and real estate agent explained that "our fathers and
grandfathers didn't know any better, but today we do." Sheehy and
council colleagues say after holding meetings with representatives
from U.S. Coking they believe the company will be a "good
of those in favor of the plant expressed that they, too, were
residents of Oregon, and had concerns of their own, adding that if
they felt the environmental concerns were bad enough the plant would
never become reality.
Mayor Ford testified that he investigated
the new technology and found that much of the information published
in past news reports regarding the projected emissions at the plant
had been exaggerated.