Public hearing

JULENE SCHWARZ asks a question during a public information session that was followed by a public hearing concerning the potential discharge into Lake Erie of a proposed diesel fuel manufacturing plant on Route 531 in Ashtabula Township.

ASHTABULA — Company officials say a new refinery they hope to build in Ashtabula would create about 40 permanent, full-time jobs.

Officials from Ashtabula Energy were in town to attend an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency public meeting Thursday regarding the draft of a permit for wastewater discharge at the proposed industrial processing plant on Route 531.

Over the next two years, Ashtabula Energy seeks to build a plant to convert natural gas to diesel fuel and other liquids and discharge 1.6 million gallons of treated wastewater per day into Lake Erie. Constructing the facility would create about 300 jobs. Once built, the plant would create 39 more jobs, company officials said.

Ashtabula Energy is a division of Velocys, a company created in Columbus, Ohio. It built its first commercial facility in Oklahoma City; this would be its second.

The plant will convert Marcellus and Utica Shale gas into diesel fuel, lubricants, solvents and waxes, Jeff S. McDaniel, Velocys commercial director, said before the meeting.

“Natural gas is clean, the finished products are clean and the diesel burns cleaner than what we’re used to seeing,” he said. “It burns cleaner and better.”

Gary A. Amendola, an engineer with Amendola Engineering in Lakewood, said they chose Ashtabula because of its proximity to transportation, including Lake Erie, and shale plays as well as the property’s existing infrastructure, including 80 acres from the company formerly known as Elkem Metals.

More than 60 people attended Thursday’s information session and public hearing at Kent State University Ashtabula Campus, voicing concerns about the company’s plan to discharge the wastewater into Lake Erie.

If issued, the Ohio EPA permit would allow the facility to discharge wastewater that would consist mostly of non-contact cooling water, but also would include water treatment plant residuals, non-process storm water, sanitary wastewater and process waste streams, said Alli Cycyk, from the Ohio EPA’s Division of Surface Water.

Some residents voiced concerns about Lake Erie and possible contaminants.

“The process and sanitary wastewaters would be treated prior to being discharged,” Cycyk said. “All water quality requirements must be met.”

Ashtabula native, Jack Hopkins, said that as a Methodist missionary he knows the value of clean drinking water. As an Ashtabula native, he doesn’t want anything to environmentally harm places he loves, like Walnut Beach.

Bill Zawiski, from the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water, said Lake Erie is a “a huge body of water” and the amount of treated wastewater flowing back into it from this plant will be “minuscule.”

Cycyk said there is no expected effect on the lake; even the temperature of the water will be monitored.

Ashtabula resident Julene Schwarz said she’s concerned about the “cumulative effect” on the lake, considering First Energy, Cristal Global, Praxair and Elco Corporation all dump wastewater into the lake.

“They all must adhere to EPA regulations,” Zawiski said. “The EPA can go out whenever we want and collect samples.”

Before the meeting, McDaniel pointed to the company’s environmental track record and the receipt of Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s STAR award.

“We have been recognized for our environmental performance,” he said. “We expect to do the same here. We welcome folks to get to know us.”

McDaniel, Amendola and John Baardson, project development director at Velocys, all attended the meeting but did not speak during it. They were available to answer the public’s questions afterwards.

This was the second public meeting in Ashtabula to discuss the requested permit. About 60 people also attended the first meeting Jan. 22.

A copy of the draft permit and related documents are available at http://www.epa.ohio.gov/dsw/permits/individuals.aspx, or by contacting Ohio EPA’s Northeast District Office in Twinsburg by calling (330) 963-1200.

Comments concerning the draft permit should be submitted in writing to: Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water, Permits Processing Unit, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049, or EPA.DSWComments@epa.ohio.gov, please include ID No. 3IN00387 in all correspondence. The public comment period ends March 27.

After considering public comments and the program staff’s recommendation, Ohio EPA’s director will make a final decision on the permit, Cycyk said.

The director’s decision can be appealed to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission.

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