Contaminated soil snarling plant purchase

YORKVILLE – The future of more than 200 steelworkers is hanging in the balance again. This time the problem seems to be RG Steel’s unwillingness to follow specific policies which set down clear framework for documenting and resolving identified corrections and cleanups called for over an extended time period by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Essentially, the core problems are tied to the handling of soil contaminated as a result of the failure of a piece of pipe to hold its contents – a chemical bath referred to as pickle liquor, which is used to clean steel as it moves through one of the processes at the Yorkville mill.

Several points raised refer to incomplete or incorrect documentation and related permit issues.

The incidents date back to 2010.

Details were broken down in a letter sent to an RG Steel official in Wheeling by the Ohio EPA on April 23, 2012.

The EPA generated letter included several specific issues which continued to require correcting. Those matters were represented by citation references of June 25, 2010; Oct. 4, 2010; and Jan. 9, 2012 Notices of Violation.

The immediate challenge posed by these dated infractions: figure out how to resolve the problem in a way which will be acceptable to the EPA and to the man who wants to drop more than $7M to complete his purchase of the steel mill in Yorkville, that for the moment is still owned by bankrupt RG Steel.

If the issue isn’t able to be resolved by next Friday, the bid to purchase the Yorkville mill by Esmark will likely be pulled, according to Jim Bouchard, the head of Esmark.

Local political and community leaders are being asked to stand up and make their voices heard in Columbus to make sure all efforts to bring a positive resolution to this impasse are put into the mix, and quickly.

“This is an opportunity for the governor and others to demonstrate their commitment to supporting manufacturing jobs in Ohio. This is the time to demonstrate the commitment they have spoken of. Preserving these steel jobs is vital to our citizens and our economy. We need to do everything we can to make sure this mill gets back up and running again soon, and our people are able to get back to work,” said State Sen. Lou Gentile (D- Steubenville).

“This is a situation made even more important when you realize it is the only one of the group of mills sold to a buyer planning to get it back in operation in the immediate future.

“Helping find a resolution to this problem needs to be the governor’s top priority, every bit as much as it is ours. We are going to need his input in order to get this resolved in a positive and productive way,” said Gentile. “We need to get some assurance the EPA will work with Mr. Bouchard to reach a resolution so this purchase can move forward.”

Gentile confirmed late Tuesday afternoon that the urgent matter does have the attention of the director of the Ohio EPA, and his staff had been able to get verification that the department was involved in negotiations about the remaining RG Steel site matters.

Details, however, were not yet available.

Gentile said Tuesday he and his staff are “fully engaged” in the effort to quickly and positively resolve an EPA violation issue which has apparently gone largely ignored by the current owner RG Steel Yorkville until it had to be disclosed to the purchaser.

He confirmed discussions on the matter have gotten underway and were involving his staff and representatives of various interested parties from across government, business, and labor.

One of the biggest challenges to successfully resolving the matter so it does not bring the purchase plan to a permanent stop is time: a lack of it as the beginning of the annual tin market contract negotiations are about to get underway.

The man at the head of Esmark and its plan to purchase the Yorkville mill from RG Steel is Jim Bouchard.

Bouchard has said he is prepared to complete the transaction the minute he is comfortable a resolution to this unexpected roadblock has been reached that is not potentially harmful to his business interests.

“I can’t be held responsible for someone else’s actions. So, I can’t close on the deal until we find some way to resolve this problem,” said Bouchard while in Yorkville on Monday afternoon.

Efforts are being made to access resources acceptable to the EPA to resolve the issue at the Yorkville mill via existing Brownfield remediation resources and programs.

Gentile said Tuesday afternoon his office is in close contact with the Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and is making every effort to elevate this situation to the level of the highest priority for the governor.

“This is my highest priority right now,” said Gentile, noting the need to encourage support aimed at advancing toward a mutually acceptable resolution while allowing these steel jobs to be maintained “as we go forward.”

Gentile also noted State Rep. Jack Cera (D-District 95) has thrown his support for finding a way to resolve the matter that is acceptable to the parties in a way that will allow Bouchard’s purchase to go forward without his interests being unfairly threatened by a continuing problem with the EPA.

The first indication of a citation having been still unaddressed by RG Steel was communicated in a letter from EPA District Representative for the Division of Materials and Waste Management, which was dated April 23, 2012.

It was addressed to Mr. Bud Smith of RG Steel at the company’s Wheeling offices.

“RG Steel LLC has failed to address the other violations that were cited on June 25, 2010; Oct. 4, 2010; and Jan. 9, 2012. Therefore RG Steel remains in violation.”

Loccisano can be reached at