Locals see new era for coke plants

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 9, 2003

HAVERHILL - When people hear about plans to build a coke plant in Haverhill, the horror stories from the New Boston plant and other antiquated facilities often come to mind.

Bob Walton, a commissioner for the Southern Ohio Port Authority and chairman of the authority's development committee, wants to dispel these misconceptions right from the start.

Walton was among more than 40 residents, public officials and community leaders who had the chance to visit last week the Jewell Coal & Coke plant in Virginia to see first-hand how much the industry has changed and what type of facility could be built in Haverhill.

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Coke is used primarily in blast furnaces in the production of iron and steel.

Sun Coke, a Knoxville-based subsidiary of Sunoco, has long considered putting a $135 to $175 million coke plant to the west of the Sunoco Chemical between old and new U.S. 52.

The company is also considering a location in Indiana.

Walton said the difference between the Jewell plant and the old facilities such as the one in New Boston are like "night and day."

"We wanted people to go down to Virginia and walk through the plant to see how environmentally friendly the plant is so they would feel comfortable with one being built in their community," Walton said.

"It is one thing to look at the statistics presented by the plant and the EPA about the emissions, but it is another thing to go out and look at the trees growing near the ovens and to look at the stream running right through the plant."

No dust residue or contaminants that are often associated with these plants were present at the plant. The visitors even got a chance to see 14-inch trout swimming through the stream, Walton said.

Overall, the response was positive, especially from several former New Boston employees

"They were amazed at the cleanliness of the new technology," Walton said. "I think everyone came back feeling good about Sun Coke building this plant in the community."

Randy Basham, staff representatives for the United Steelworkers of America, went on the trip and said the plants are like modern heat pumps compared to an old wood-burning stove.

"The Jewell plant is probably the best example of modern technology in the coke-producing industry," Basham said. "People hear the war stories, but the technology has completely eliminated the disasters associated with the New Boston plant."

Basham said that with the educational opportunities of local colleges and trade-schools that this is a tremendous window of opportunity to create quality jobs that will allow the youth of today to stay at home and to boost the entire economy of this region.

Sun Coke requested a modification of its original permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Dale Walker, senior vice president of operations with Sun Coke, said the modification was necessary to allow the facility to be better constructed in phases.

The Ohio EPA will host a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Green High School gym to accept public comment on its draft air permit.

If issued, the permit would regulate air emissions from the four 100-oven coke batteries, two quenching tours and the handling operations for coal, coke and coke breeze.

Written comments will be accepted until Nov. 14 by mailing to Portsmouth Local Air Agency. Attn: Cindy Charles, 605 Washington St., Portsmouth, Ohio 45662

The company plans to build 100 ovens and hopes to expand to 400 ovens in later phases. Just phase one alone will create 65 permanent jobs with an average salary of $81,500 a year, Walton said. More jobs would be added as more ovens come on-line.

It would also generate 300 to 500 jobs during the peak construction phase, he said.

Before this can become a reality, Sunoco must decide whether of not the plant will be built in Ohio or Indiana. Several other issues remain on the horizon including getting the state incentives and bonding package approved, approving a local tax abatement and submitting grant application to acquire funding for infrastructure work, Walton said.

For more information about Sun Coke, visit: www.suncoke.com.