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Biomass misses cleanup deadline

SOUTH POINT — A company ordered to remove tons of coal and coke waste from its South Point site has failed to do so and has been ordered back to Lawrence County Common Pleas Court to answer for its inaction.

Biomass Energy LLC, under the leadership of CEO Mark Harris, is scheduled to appear before retired Judge Richard Walton July 19 in Ironton.

Initially, the late Judge Frank McCown heard the case. In December, he ordered the removal of about 33,000 tons of coal and coke waste from the Biomass site at The Point industrial park, the property that once housed the South Point Ethanol plant.

At the last Biomass hearing, McCown also warned the company if it did not clean up the site it would face a $109,000 penalty and forfeiture of a $522,000 performance bond. He also said he was not against imposing jail time for those associated with Biomass.

The late judge was a sharp critic of the company and had referred to it as “Bio-mess.” He said the company is not only posing an environmental threat to the community, but is putting lives in danger.

In the past, Harris has stated that the coal and coke waste is not a health hazard and the public has no need to worry. Harris said he has simply not had the money to remove all the waste from the Biomass site.

There has been some material removed from Biomass. Jim Leach, an Ohio EPA spokesman, said about 4,000 tons of the waste were removed a few weeks ago. No further cleanup of the site has been done since the court handed down its order, Leach said.

December’s agreement came on the heels of a contempt of court lawsuit filed by former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. In it, Petro alleged Harris did not comply with initial orders to clean up the Biomass site. The first court-ordered cleanup of the site was nearly three years ago.

Biomass has been at the center of legal wranglings before. The company was sued by the attorney general’s office in 2004 and forced to pay $26,000 for its improper storage and slow removal of more than 10,000 tons of tobacco at its site. At that time, the company agreed to remove all of the coal and coke products at the site within a year and a half.

Initially, Biomass had plans for a $150 million renovation of the former ethanol plant in South Point that would’ve allowed it to operate a wood-fired plant that could generate enough electricity to supply 150,000 to 200,000 households.

A message left for Harris’ was not returned.