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Published: 6/30/2007

Mayor riled by coke plant moves

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner told The Blade yesterday he "may have to re-examine our position" on the proposed $800 million coking facility and co-generation power plant if the project's developer follows through with its second attempt to get its 2004 permit softened.

During an interview from his office, Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants FDS Coke Plant LLC to abide by tough environmental restrictions that former Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Chris Jones wrote into the original permit.

He said the company "should not screw around" any longer.

Mr. Finkbeiner accused FDS of "playing games again" when he heard about paperwork that it filed June 22 with Toledo's Division of Environmental Services.

The filing was in anticipation of a new law Gov. Ted Strickland's administration pushed through the Ohio legislature this month so that concessions voided by a state board on June 1 could be reinstated. It takes effect tomorrow.

"If they're not going to [abide by the 2004 permit], we may have to re-examine our position on this," the mayor said of FDS.

Attached as a rider to the state's upcoming budget, the new law gives Ohio EPA directors the authority to modify permits while they are under appeal.

The 2004 permit was appealed on two fronts: By FDS, which claimed it was impractical, and jointly by the Sierra Club and the village of Harbor View, both of which objected to a permit being issued at all.

Joe Koncelik, who succeeded Mr. Jones as Ohio EPA director, responded by issuing a modification in the fall of 2005 that eased up on costly environmental restrictions.

Mr. Koncelik's action was voided June 1 by the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission, which ruled the former state EPA director had no authority to tinker with what his predecessor had done while the case was still on appeal.

That reverted the project to its original 2004 permit.

The company's attorney, Francis X. Lyons, said earlier this month, though, that the project was still viable under those restrictions. On Thursday, Mr. Lyons said FDS has filed to get terms of the 2005 modification reinstated because they are "a lot more preferable."

The project would be built on 51 acres the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority owns along Lake Erie's Maumee Bay. The site straddles the East Toledo-Oregon border.

Oregon Mayor Marge Brown, one of the project's most staunch supporters, was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Ken Filipiak, Oregon's city administrator, said city officials there have not made the same distinction that Mr. Finkbeiner has between the 2004 permit and the 2005 modification.

"We trust the Ohio EPA is going to apply reasonable standards," Mr. Filipiak said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said during his interview that he once was a dues-paying member of the Sierra Club and that he is more sensitive to environmental issues than people may realize.

"I believe in the [Sierra Club] principle of water and air being as clean as they can be," he said.

Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council, which fought Mr. Strickland's plan to give Ohio EPA directors more power over permits, called Mr. Finkbeiner's statements "a major development."

"We'll take him at his word," Mr. Shaner said of Mr. Finkbeiner. "We'll give the mayor the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he didn't like the way he saw it unfolding. Better late than never."

Oregon Councilman Sandy Bihn, a Sierra Club member and vocal opponent of the coke project, echoed that thought.

"In fairness to him, [the project] is new to him," she said. "I'm pleased he's holding the company to its statement that it can do it under the 2004 permit."

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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