Resolve OEPA Concern at Mill

Whether more than 200 local workers have jobs a few weeks from now may depend on how willing the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is to compromise.

After RG Steel entered bankruptcy proceedings, a former owner of much of the company’s assets, Esmark, offered to buy the old Yorkville steel mill. In submitting a $5 million bid for the property, Esmark agreed to keep about 230 workers employed there. A bankruptcy court judge approved the deal.

Earlier this week the road to recovery at Yorkville became very bumpy, however.

Esmark Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James Bouchard explained that the day before the transaction was to have been completed, he learned of an unresolved “issue” involving the plant and the OEPA. The agency first raised the matter with RG Steel in 2010 but it was revealed to Bouchard only after most arrangements for purchase of the Yorkville plant had been made.

Before the transfer of ownership can be finalized, the OEPA concern must be resolved, Bouchard stressed. Time to accomplish that is limited because of the need for Esmark to arrange annual contracts for products from the local plant.

Bouchard did not reveal the exact nature of the OEPA’s complaint but, as he was speaking with a reporter Monday, he may not have known himself.

Obviously, the agency’s concern has something to do with environmental quality, perhaps hazardous waste. Just as clearly, resolution was not required expeditiously, or there would have been action on the two-year-old issue before now.

Of course, the OEPA cannot just make the problem go away. If the agency’s concern was serious enough to require attention in the first place, the Yorkville plant’s new owner may have to take some action.

But within that constraint, the agency should do all in its power to work with Esmark – with the goal of ensuring the Yorkville plant can remain open.

If Bouchard is forced to back away from the purchase, the 230 jobs he hopes to save may be lost. Some means of avoiding that simply must be devised.