Delays Could Cost Ohio New Plant, Jobs

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- Plans for a new industrial plant that promises to bring much needed jobs to northern Ohio may fall through if a state environmental review board doesn't move forward within the next month.

Investors are losing patience after five years of delays and have told the state that they are close to scrapping plans for the $800 million plant.

The company behind the project still needs permits from the state before it can start construction on the plant that will make coke for steel production and an adjacent facility that will generate power.

At stake are 150 permanent jobs along with up to 2,000 temporary construction jobs in Lucas County, where unemployment at 11.9 percent, well above the state average of 10.2 percent.

It has been five years since the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued the first permit for the plant. Various delays sparked by environmental concerns have left construction on hold despite Gov. Ted Strickland's support for the project.

FDS Coke Plant LLC, a corporation representing the project's investors, said this week that they're tired of waiting.

Project manager Lance Traves said they've given the state's Environmental Review Appeals Commission 30 days to schedule a hearing on outstanding permit issues. We're still dealing with procedural issues," he said.

Mary Oxley, the commission's executive secretary, said it's unlikely the board will act by the end of June.

Both the Sierra Club and the village of Harbor View, which is downwind from the plant, have challenged the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's decision to allow the plant's construction.

Environmental groups and opponents who live nearby say the plant would pollute the air with coal dust and other emissions. Investors say it would be cleaner than other plants that make coke, which is coal that's baked and used as a fuel in steel making.

Sierra Club attorney Dennis Muchnicki said it's the company that wants to build the plant, not environmentalists, that is to blame for the slow process. "One hundred percent of the delays have been the result of their bad-faith discussions," he said.

Permit issues also are holding up a Tennessee company's plans to construct a $340 million coke plant in southwest Ohio.

Knoxville, Tenn.-based SunCoke Energy has applied for a more stringent permit to remove any doubts that it can meet air quality requirements after a Clean Air Act lawsuit delayed construction of the Middletown plant.

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