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City officials offer praise for new coke plant

By Kelly J. Kaczala
Press News Editor

OREGON - The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's approval last week of a permit for U.S. Coking Group LLC to build a proposed coke plant here touched off a round of praise for the project in council chambers on Monday.

"It's been a very exciting day," Mayor Marge Brown said to council. "Industry is coming to northwest Ohio. We have a lot to overcome yet. We have a lot of bad feelings. And I think we can work with them. I've asked Kurt Erichsen, of TMACOG, to put in an air monitoring machine on Bay Shore Road by the Toledo Edison plant. A lot feel out there we no longer have anything to do with them, and that's wrong. We do care about them as much as anyone in the community."

The amount of mercury the plant can emit was greatly reduced by the Ohio EPA as part of the permit, something Brown said she and Administrator Ken Filipiak had been working on.

"The mercury issue came down to less than 1.5 ounces per day. So that was kind of a nice boost for our records. It's something Ken and I, along with the Port Authority, have been working on - to get the Ohio EPA to reduce emissions. We're kind of excited about that."

Council President Mike Sheehy said he's confident the city will overcome opposition to the coke plant.

"There's some bad feelings within a certain segment of the community. But I think those bad feelings are in large part borne of ignorance and misinformation. We have some education to do in the process."

Filipiak said a recent trip by city officials to East Chicago, Indiana, where a similar plant operates, was encouraging.

"It confirms some of the positive feelings we had about the job we believe U.S. Coking will be able to do in Oregon," he said. "What we found most interesting was the level of technology involved, how well it demonstrated to us how it worked, specifically the pollution control equipment. It's one thing to talk about the efficiency of that type of equipment. It's another thing to actually see that at work and see just what a clean operation it is. In addition to that, we are all very pleased at the lack of nuisance levels that was suggested could potentially be problems, and the suggestion we would have to endure rotten egg smell, clouds of colored smoke, all kinds of odors. We found none of that. The level of expertise of the technicians and the employees in general was pretty impressive. We were very impressed with the facility, we came away with renewed confidence and our support for it. I think we're very happy to see the draft permit was finalized."

Sheehy, who also went to East Chicago, said "the air was clear, there was no smell. We saw every operation the coking operation's a very tight, well run operation."

Sheehy said the plant will not only offer jobs to the community, but spin-off businesses as well.

"Ten years from now, we'll look back and I think we'll all be proud we were part of this process," he said.

Law Director Paul Goldberg praised Brown for her commitment to keep an eye on the new coke plant to ensure it abides by the law.

"I was very heartened to hear the mayor say that when the coking facility comes here, `we're going to hold their feet to the fire.' The mayor said that the city will make every effort to ensure that that facility meets every environmental regulation imposed on it by the Ohio and U.S. EPA. And if they don't, they will find, as others in the city have found, the city can be quite dedicated and committed to ensuring those regulations are followed. I think you need to go no further than Envirosafe and ask those folks if they think we're dedicated to the environment."

Councilman Matt Szollosi said the Ohio EPA's approval is "a huge victory, not only for Oregon, but Lucas County, the Port Authority, state of Ohio, the building trades - with 1,000 construction jobs over the next two years building the facility, and 165 permanent jobs."

The coke plant, he added, will assist in the resurgence of the steel industry in the country.

"It's just a tremendous victory."

The visit to the coking plant in East Chicago, said Szollosi, "did a lot to allay some people's reservations about the mystery behind this project."

"This was a textbook case of a very successful endeavor. I agree that for years to come we're going to look back and say this was something special."

Councilwoman Sharon Graffeo Rudess noted that tax revenue from the coke plant will relieve some of the tax burden on the community.

"I think we all have a win-win situation with this."

Councilman James Seaman agreed.

"The schools are the big winners. We're talking about $1 million per year [for the district] for 10 years in a row. We're talking about a $350 million project, perhaps $200,000 in additional water revenue to help pay off our expensive water treatment plant, and over 160 jobs. That will help us maintain our high standard of city services."

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