City officials are working to set a meeting to discuss Erie Coke’s compliance plan
Erie Coke Corp. has missed the deadline to come into compliance with the city of Erie’s wastewater treatment rules.
As a result, the coke plant at the foot of East Avenue is at least temporarily not discharging wastewater into the city’s sanitary system.
Ed Nesselbeck, the company’s environmental director, said Erie Coke will truck some wastewater offsite and store some at the plant as it works to get back into compliance.
The plant cannot discharge wastewater into the city’s system again until its entire onsite wastewater treatment system is in compliance, he said. The onsite wastewater treatment system is used to pretreat the plant’s wastewater before it is released into the city’s system.
Sunday was the compliance deadline the city set in a cease-and-desist order it had issued to the company in November. If Erie Coke did not become compliant by that date, according to the order, it would be forced to stop discharging wastewater into the city’s sanitary system.
City Solicitor Ed Betza said Tuesday it was his understanding that Erie Coke is out of compliance with its permit and is not discharging industrial waste into the city’s sewer system.
Betza said the city is working to schedule a meeting with Erie Coke to discuss the company’s plan to reach compliance.
The city’s concerns with Erie Coke’s wastewater center on the release of ammonia and naphthalene, which are byproducts of the coke-making process, in excess of permit limits. The 137-employee plant produces coke by heating coal in its batteries of coke ovens, which are maintained at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The city has twice reached consent orders with Erie Coke that required the company to pay a total of $300,000 in civil penalties for mishandling wastewater between December 2017 and June.
Betza has said previously that those penalties helped offset the cost to the city of treating wastewater from the coke plant.
The city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant treats the water it receives from Erie Coke, which travels through the city’s sanitary system, before releasing the water into Lake Erie, according to officials with Erie’s Bureau of Sewers.
The officials have said previously that Erie Coke’s previous violations of its permit did not present a health concern to the public.
The November cease-and-desist order gave Erie Coke an additional month to come into compliance because the company had recently received permission to use a wastewater treatment tank that was critical to the plant’s improvement plan.
Nesselbeck said the company received permission a month ago to begin using the tank from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“Since putting the tank back in service, we have made steady progress toward a compliance discharge,” he said.
Erie Coke has been embroiled in a legal fight to stay open since the DEP in July announced it would not renew the plant’s Title V operating permit, citing years of environmental violations.
The company appealed and won a temporary reprieve in August, when Environmental Hearing Board Judge Steven C. Beckman ruled the plant could remain open, under certain conditions, until a larger hearing on the appeal in February.
The DEP’s complaints about Erie Coke’s environmental violations primarily relate to the potential for air pollution, while the city has focused on Erie Coke’s wastewater discharges.