Workers, Erie Coke official say plant is closed

Whether the plant has been shut down permanently is unclear

Erie Coke Corp. turned away employees Thursday morning, possibly signaling the end of a years-long fight between the plant and community members concerned about environmental violations.

One employee, who declined to give his name, said he was told “they’re safely shutting it down.”

“We just got here and they said we don’t have a job,” said another employee, Justin Pastuha.

Both employees were standing at the entrance to the plant, which sits at the foot of East Avenue. Company officials have said the plant employs 137 people. About a dozen were standing outside the plant Thursday morning.

Ed Nesselbeck, the company’s environmental director, said he also understood that the plant was closed Thursday. He said he did not know additional details and was on his way to Erie.

The workers at the plant said they blamed the city of Erie, which recently forced Erie Coke to halt the discharge of wastewater into the city’s sanitary system due to years of consistent violations.

“Thanks, city of Erie,” Pastuha said.

Nesselbeck said previously that Erie Coke would truck some wastewater offsite and store some at the plant while it worked to to get back into compliance with the city’s wastewater rules.

Ed Betza, the city’s solicitor, said Thursday the city is “aware of reports that Erie Coke has ceased operations. We have not received official confirmation of such a closure.

“The city has worked closely with Erie Coke to help them achieve environmental compliance,” Betza said. “We will continue offer any assistance we can but we must ensure that operations are in compliance with all applicable environmental rules and regulations.”

Betza said a meeting between city and Erie Coke officials is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at Erie City Hall.

The city’s concerns with Erie Coke’s wastewater have centered on the release of ammonia and naphthalene, which are byproducts of the coke-making process, in excess of permit limits. The 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.

In November, the city issued a cease-and-desist order that gave Erie Coke until Dec. 15 to come into compliance

Erie Coke has also 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.

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