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Airing a grievance

Coke plant proposal revives pollution fears on Neville Island

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A proposal to build a new coke plant on Neville Island has highlighted yet another long-standing case of environmental noncompliance on the mostly industrial slab of real estate in the Ohio River.

 
Colleen Willison of Kennedy is joined by her two children, Casey, 4, in her arms, and Megan, 7, during a protest of Shenango Inc.'s plant yesterday on Neville Island. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette) 

More than two dozen people demonstrated in front of the Neville municipal building yesterday, saying the new plant proposed by Shenango Inc. partner, Antaeus Energy, shouldn't be permitted until Shenango's existing coke battery can demonstrate it can operate cleanly.

Despite more than $5 million spent on environmental controls, Shenango has regularly violated its air pollution limits for six years, including 310 days last year alone.

"Shenango should be required to show it can run a coke plant in compliance with the law before it is given a permit to run another," said Myron Arnowitt, Western Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, which staged the demonstration before the Allegheny County Health Department's air pollution control advisory committee meeting.

Arnowitt asked the committee, which had spent the afternoon touring the Shenango coke plant, to require air quality compliance from Shenango before Antaeus' permit is approved, and include automatic and specific penalties for any violations. He also requested county Clean Air Fund money for a health study of area residents.

The committee appointed a special subcommittee to review the requests.

The Health Department has indicated it will recommend permit approval for Antaeus Energy's new $100 million coke plant because the proposal includes a compliance plan for Shenango's 15-year-old coke battery.

"We recognize the issues, and it will be our goal and proposal to assist the existing facility to come into compliance," said Richard DiNitto, Antaeus vice president.

But residents and opponents say they've heard promises of compliance before, from Tapco Inc., an animal rendering plant just down the road that the Health Department allowed to continue operating despite a 14-year history of odor problems.

"What Shenango is doing is wrong. People here are suffering," said Cindy Tuite of Bellevue.

"We don't want people to lose their jobs, but we do want the Health Department to make the companies comply with the law."

"If Shenango is made to comply, we can have the environmental benefits and the jobs," Arnowitt said. "If not, we're forced to chose between jobs and the environment. It's up to the Health Department."

Shenango and Antaeus Energy, which will merge next month, have applied for a permit to build a $100 million coke plant next to Shenango's existing 56-oven battery. The new coke plant would produce 500,000 tons of coke a year and employ 50 people. The existing plant produces 360,000 tons of coke and employs 200.

Because the new plant is technically an expansion of the existing facility, the Health Department is requiring Antaeus to include a plan to bring the 15-year-old Shenango coke battery into compliance.

The Health Department plans to recommend permit approval next month, followed by a 30-day public comment period and a public hearing.



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