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Shenango Inc. Neville Island coke plant agrees to pay $300K fine, upgrade air pollution controls

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 11:21 a.m.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
The southeast end of Neville Island is home to the Shenango Inc. coke plant, owned by Michigan-based DTE Energy Services, the West View Water Authority and other industrial facilities.

The Shenango Inc. coke plant on Neville Island will pay a $300,000 fine and spend more than $1 million to upgrade its plant to better control air pollution, according to a settlement the company and the Allegheny County Health Department announced on Tuesday.

The county could have levied millions of dollars in fines and shut the plant until it made repairs and upgrades to comply with county and federal air quality standards had DTE Energy Services, the Michigan-based company that bought the facility in 2008, not agreed to the settlement, said Jim Thompson, the county's deputy director of environmental health.

Chris Kiesling, manager at the Shenango plant, expected the facility to be in full compliance by the middle of the year.

“Looks like this is some good progress,” said Aaron Stubna, owner of the Lincoln Barber Shop in Bellevue and one of the 36 businesses or organizations that signed a letter in March to the county health department saying air quality violations at Shenango were unacceptable. “It will be nice not to smell (emissions) on a nice summer morning when you're sitting outside.”

Emissions from the plant frequently exceeded federal and county air pollution limits since 2012.

The county fined Shenango $66,450 for violations during the last half of 2013, according to the settlement. The Pittsburgh-based advocacy nonprofit Group Against Smog and Pollution reported that the plant exceeded requirements on 330 days between July 26, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013. Those violations might have resulted in $8.25 million in fines had Shenango not cooperated with the county, Thompson said.

GASP, which has indicated it might sue Shenango over the violations, said additional legal action is an option. The organization will review the agreement before making further comment, said Rachel Filippini, GASP's executive director.

“This agreement, we hope, will represent a long-term solution,” Filippini said. “What we don't want is to be back at the table or having these conversations a year or two from now.”

County and company officials said the agreement will bring Shenango into compliance without sacrificing production or jobs at the plant. Kiesling expected no layoffs or disruptions to about 150 employees and 100 contractors. Daily, three-hour production shutdowns to make repairs and upgrades will not affect plant output, Kiesling said.

Thompson said Shenango faces a $600,000 fine under the agreement, but the company decided to offset half the fine with a $300,000 project to reduce emissions from its quenching tower — where water is dumped on burning coke pushed out of the ovens — to below what is allowed by the facility's permit. The settlement also forces the facility to patch, reinforce and add about 20 feet to a shed covering the rail that coke travels on from the oven to the quench tower and upgrade filters that capture pollution during the process. Shenango estimated the work will cost $750,000.

The shed extension must be completed by May 15, upgrades to the filters by May 30 and repairs to the roof by June 30. If Shenango misses the deadlines, it could be fined between $1,500 and $3,000 a day.

Kiesling said Shenango is confident it can meet the deadlines.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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