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Published: Saturday, 7/5/2008

Ottawa County beryllium plant plans expansion

BY GABE NELSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ELMORE - With a Department of Defense contract and a newly approved tax abatement in hand, metal refining company Brush Wellman Inc. plans to begin construction this summer on a $90.4-million expansion that will create 25 jobs at its main plant in Ottawa County.

Brush Wellman, a division of Cleveland-based Brush Engineered Materials, is the leading U.S. manufacturer of pure beryllium and beryllium alloys, which are typically used in high-tech instruments and machinery. It hopes to open a beryllium-processing facility by April, 2010, at its Elmore plant, 20 miles southeast of Toledo.

About three-quarters of the funding for the project will come from the Defense Department, which stockpiles beryllium as a strategic resource. Brush Wellman will contribute $23.2 million to the project.

In addition to creating 25 jobs, the expansion will protect 118 Elmore plant workers whose jobs would have been cut had the company decided to build the new wing in Delta, Utah, where it mines its beryllium.

Brush Wellman announced the decision to build the plant in Ohio last month, spurred by a tax abatement approved by Ottawa County officials.

The Woodmore Board of Education voted to expand the abatement last week, making it a $10-million tax abatement for the next 10 years. Anne

Arnold, the school board's treasurer, said the abatement will save the company about $1.3 million in taxes over that time period.

School officials said they offered the tax abatement to promote new jobs and economic growth in Ottawa County. With about 590 employees, the Elmore plant is the county's second-largest employer.

"They're a good neighbor," Superintendent Jane Garling said. "We're just trying to help out and keep our people employed."

School board officials said they had little to lose from the abatement because schools receive less state funding when they gain more money from real estate taxes.

Mrs. Garling called the decision to grant the tax abatement a "no-brainer."

"We evaluated the cost of construction and installation of the facility, and with the tax abatement, the best economic place to put the plant was in Ohio," Greg Gregory, the project's manager, said.

Beryllium, a key component in parts for aircraft and nuclear weapons, was in high demand during the Cold War. Though demand dropped off as tensions lifted, the lightweight metal's strength, resistance to extreme temperatures, and conductivity to heat and electricity have made it a hot commodity once again.

Pure beryllium and beryllium alloys - which combine the metal with copper, nickel, and other metals - are now used for products such as

X-ray equipment, car parts, and golf clubs.

Brush Wellman and other companies that handle beryllium have taken criticism in the past for exposing employees to the toxic metal, which, when inhaled as dust, can cause a potentially fatal ailment called chronic beryllium disease.

According to a 1999 series in The Blade, at least 127 people at Brush Wellman came down with the ailment - 50 of them at the Elmore plant.

The new processing facility replaces previous facility that closed in 2000. Larry Chako, a Brush Wellman spokesman, said the company shut it down because of outdated equipment.

He said much of the new facility will be automated, allowing plant employees to control the production process without coming into direct contact with beryllium dust.

"Certainly, there was more protection needed in the old plant," Brush Wellman spokesman Larry Chako said, referring to precautions used in the old plant that will no longer be necessary. "With the new plant, there will be a minimum of human interface."

The company must secure approval from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency before proceeding with construction. The Ohio EPA has issued a draft permit for construction and plans to hold a meeting July 24 at Woodmore High School in Elmore allowing the plant's neighbors to comment on the draft permit.

Under the terms of the draft, the plant extension's emissions of beryllium into the environment would be restricted to about 80 pounds per year.

"We'll make sure that emissions are very limited. Any emissions that are released would still be within federal standards," Ohio EPA spokesman Dina Pierce said.

Staff writer Meredith Byers contributed to this report.

Contact Gabe Nelson at:

gnelson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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