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Published: Tuesday, 4/5/2005

Half beats nothing at all

OBVIOUSLY mindful that 50 percent of something beats 100 percent of nothing, the cities of Toledo and Oregon have finally and fortunately put a border dispute behind them that threatened as many as 150 new jobs.

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford and Oregon Mayor Marge Brown agreed to a 50-50 split of tax revenues they expect to be generated by a planned $350 million coking plant to be built on land each city believed was within its borders.

The agreement, to stand for 40 years, ends an argument that produced the threat of legal action, and beyond that, the possibility that the U.S. Coking Group would end its interest in a new plant in this area.

Still to be resolved, however, is the question of potential environmental harm from the plant's mercury emissions. We share the concerns of East Siders and Oregon residents in that regard.

Zero emissions are virtually impossible at a coking plant, which produces a material essential to the production of steel. But the original intent to emit up to 680 pounds of mercury a year into the air was dramatically cut by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to barely 5 percent of that, or 36 pounds.

The construction permit would be the most stringent ever issued in Ohio for such a facility, though there is no assurance yet that the 36-pound figure will hold. U.S. Coking's unhappiness with the 36-pound limit could prove a more serious threat to the plant's construction than the border dispute.

For comparison's sake, another proposed coking facility in Haverhill, Ohio, near Portsmouth - a plant not yet built - has no maximum mercury emission limitation at all.

More was at stake in the Toledo-Oregon feud than which community would get future tax revenues. For its part, U.S. Coking clearly prefers to build on Toledo-owned land because Toledo is considered an "impacted" city and Oregon is not, qualifying the company for some $30 million in federal tax credits.

As it turns out, Oregon may have faced a losing battle had it taken the dispute to court. The 51 1/2-acre site sits on Oregon's side of Duck Creek, considered the traditional border between the two cities, but only because over the years engineers redirected the creek flow, artificially cutting off a 500-foot strip of Toledo land.

Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala researched the boundary several months ago at the request of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and determined that the land was indeed inside Toledo's boundary. The port authority owns the land and plans to lease it to U.S. Coking.

It's likely that once that became known to all the parties, Mayor Ford's offer of an equal split of revenues began to look better to Oregon. Both mayors deserve credit for making a deal that helps both cities and striking a blow for the concept of regional cooperation, something Mr. Ford has been preaching about a lot lately.

To the extent that the new plant will create 150 jobs and a needed boost to the economy - provided it can do so without jeopardizing public health - the agreement between the two mayors is a positive step forward.



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