Trumbull County treasurer sues steel firm
WARREN — Warren Steel Holdings LLC — a defunct maker of steel parts used in manufacturing with ties to a Ukrainian oligarch not allowed to enter the U.S. — finds itself facing another lawsuit, this one by Trumbull County’s treasurer who wants to foreclose on hundreds of acres where the closed mill sits.
It’s a step, said Treasurer Sam Lamancusa, toward ultimately handing off the land to the Trumbull County Land Bank, which, according to its director, wants to ready the site for some sort of reuse.
“The site is zoned industrial, and we will make the property available through an RFP (request for proposal) process and seek to find an end user based on public input and the needs of the community,” Shawn Carvin, land bank director, said. “The southern portion, along the Mahoning River, will likely revert back to a natural space to protect the river and existing vegetation in the area, all of this occurring upon clearance of any environmental hazards.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a protracted legal battle in Trumbull County between the state and Warren Steel Holdings LLC over allegations it ran afoul of the state’s solid and hazardous waste pollution and water pollution control laws, which the company denies.
The foreclosure action filed last month is for one of the two parcels at the site — 143 acres in Champion — but will be updated to include the second parcel of 220 acres in Warren Township.
All told, Warren Steel Holdings owes Trumbull County $767,543 in back property taxes, penalties and interest, according to the treasurer’s office. The amount also includes a special assessment of $275,849 for delinquent water bill payments to Warren.
“We can’t do much at the property until it gets into our name. The EPA has a little more authority to go in and address some of the issues, but as far as getting the whole site cleaned up, once it’s in our inventory, we can really start going after grants, Ohio or federal EPA funding and resources to get it taken care of,” Carvin said of addressing environmental issues at the facility.
The land bank would work with an environmental consultant to develop a remediation plan.
“Once we get that done, being in our ownership, we can work with the local communities to make sure their economic development goals are met and things are moving in the right direction that are the most beneficial for the community,” Carvin said.
In the 2016 state case, a consent order and permanent injunction approved in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court calls for Warren Steel Holdings LLC to pay $1.12 million in civil penalties and address solid and construction demolition debris waste, surface water and other environmental contaminants at the site.
The agreement, filed with the court Aug. 20, gave the company 30 days to pay the penalty. The $622,852 was split thusly: $472,852 to go to the state’s Environmental Protection Remediation Fund and $150,000 to the state’s Water Pollution Control Administration Fund.
Another $500,000 was ordered to Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to be used “solely for the purpose of improving public health and wellness” and / or for the “protection, conservation, preservations and enhancement” of air, water, natural resources and public lands in and around the Warren area.
A spokesman with the Ohio EPA said Warren Steel Holdings LLC made the payments Sept. 20.
The agreement states Warren Steel Holdings has prepared closure plans for the melt shop water treatment area, wastewater treatment plant acid tanks, electric arc furnace dust bag house and a waste pile at the site that must be approved by the Ohio EPA.
The Ohio EPA approved the closure plans in August, according to a letter dated the 31st of that month.
Documents contained with the settlement show the cost to close the facility are estimated at nearly $880,000. Most of that, according to the documents, are to clean and close the arc furnace dust bag house, $844,135.
In November 2015, the mill that operated with about 150 workers in part of the former Copperweld Steel property went dark. The plan was to idle production until 2016, but that didn’t happened. Instead, the mill closed for good.
It had stopped operations once before that, in August 2014, citing increasing electric costs. The plant resumed operations later the same month after winning approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for a break on the power rates.
Warren Steel Holdings was founded in 2001 as an affiliate of Optima Ventures LLC, which was owned, in part, by billionaire Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, who along with Gennadiy Boholiubov, another Ukranian oligarch and Optima co-owner, is accused of running a multibillion-dollar money laundering scheme using their control of PrivatBank in the Ukraine, according to documents in U.S. court in Florida.
The August 2020 complaint, which in February with other related cases were consolidated into one case, details the conspiracy to launder money.
The U.S. State Department in March sanctioned Kolomoisky. According to a report in the Washington Post, he and members of his family were sanctioned under a U.S. law that allows the State Department to designate officials of foreign governments involved in human rights violations and corruption. Designation under the law prevents individuals from entering the United States but doesn’t result in the imposition of financial sanctions, according to the report.