Sun Coke coming to Haverhill

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2003

PORTSMOUTH - The poor soul who came without gloves left with frozen red fingers Wednesday afternoon.

Nevertheless, freezing temperatures and snow did not put a chill on Haverhill.

Dirt officially began to fly for the Haverhill North Coke Company's facility at the corner of Old U.S. 52 and Ironton Avenue in Haverhill. Sun Coke, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based subsidiary of Sunoco, has long considered building a $135 to $175 million coke plant to the west of the Sunoco Chemical facility between old and new U.S. 52. The company had also considered a site in Indiana.

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"We had broad-based and enthusiastic local support," said Mike Dingus, Sun Coke president. "Government agencies offered attractive incentives … Everything came together."

Dingus said the company looks forward to providing "good, steady and stable" jobs to Southern Ohio. Four hundred people are expected to be put to work during the estimated 13-month construction phase. When the plant is operational, 65-70 people are expected to work at the plant.

The plant's construction was a decade-long dream come true for Scioto County government entities and their neighbors. Speakers at a pre-groundbreaking ceremony at Shawnee State University's Vern Riffe Center consistently pointed out that when the process began, several of the men still had dark hair - or had hair period.

Bob Walton, commissioner for the Southern Ohio Port Authority, said the company showed an interest in Haverhill about 10 years ago, but economic conditions were unfavorable in the steel industry at that time. Now, conditions in the industry of coke plants has improved enough for a new plant to go under construction.

"It may be cloudy and there's a little bit of snow, but the sun is shining on Scioto County," said Tom Reiser, Scioto County Commission chairman.

Government officials offered a number of incentives for Sun Coke. Reiser said the company will not have to pay 100 percent of property taxes for the first 10 years. In turn, Sun Coke will give $150,000 a year to local government entities such as the county and school district. Green Local Schools, he said, is the biggest winner in this agreement because this will not be included in their funding formula for the 10 years and will not be counted against them when it comes to receiving state dollars.

Scioto County has agreed to run sewer lines to the plant and the city of Portsmouth will supply water lines, Reiser said.

According to a release from the Ohio Department of Development, the state has committed the following assistance for the project, some of which is pending the recommendation of the Development Financing Advisory Council and approval by the state controlling board: a 70 percent Job Creation Tax Credit for a 10-year term; a direct loan of up to $2 million; a $250,000 business development grant; a $150,000 roadwork development grant; a $300,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Appalachia; a $400,000 Ohio Water Development Authority Local Economic Development Loan; and a $64,000 Ohio Investment in Training Program grant.

Fifty thousand dollars of the business development grant will be distributed to Scioto County for the extension of sewer lines. The tax credit is valued at $828,300, and the company is required to maintain operations at the site for at least 20 years.

Although figures are not set in stone, Mark Shanahan, director of Ohio Air Quality said the organization will likely finance a total of $135 million in loans to the plant. Sun Coke qualified for this because it operates at the maximum achieved control technology (MACT), established by the Clean Air Act of 1990.

Knowing that the plant's economic and employment potential would cross political boundaries, Lawrence County officials were vocal supporters of the plant's construction. Wednesday's groundbreaking comes shortly after Duke Energy in Hamilton Township became fully operational and the day before officials from Calpine inked an agreement with the Lawrence County Commission Thursday morning.

"This is a victory," said Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens. "We have the agreement with Calpine (today) and could result in a modern industrial area."

"Anything that happens near the border will support Lawrence County, as well as anything across the river," said Commission President George Patterson. "If it's good for them, it's good for us."

T.J. Justice, Gov. Bob Taft's regional economic development representative, said the addition of Calpine and Sun Coke could result in a revitalized Ohio River corridor.

"Economic development crosses county lines," he said. "I was very pleased to see the Lawrence County Commissioners here today. In a rural area, you have to work together to have opportunities like this."

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-6th District) complimented the work of several government entities working together, even ones who are not within the political boundaries of Scioto County.

"Many of you refused to give up," he said. "We can do so much by working together and considering ourselves a part of a community."

U.S. Rep. Rob Portman (R-2nd District) noted how important the domestic coke and steel industries are to national security. With more plants in the country, he said, the United States does not have to rely as heavily on other countries for these products.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Todd Book (D-89th District) was in the holiday spirit.

"We have an early Christmas present. Let's savor it," he said.