HANNIBAL, Ohio - As nearly 1,000 Ormet employees wonder if the company has produced its last aluminum sow, AEP officials are moving to disconnect all electricity service to the plant by Friday. However, environmental regulators fear this poses "substantial risks to public health and safety."
Ormet shut down earlier this month after the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio failed to lower Ormet's AEP costs from $60 to down to $45.89 per megawatt-hour as Ormet requested.
Emphasizing the company faced high electric bills coupled with low aluminum prices, Ormet filed for bankruptcy in February. The company later announced a planned $221 million sale to Minnesota-based Wayzata, but officials said this transaction required convincing the PUCO to allow Ormet to have lower AEP bills.
DISCUSSES PROBLEMS WORKERS FACE — John Puskar, staff representative for the United Steelworkers, said displaced Ormet Corp. workers are facing a desperate situation. -- Casey Junkins
Now, AEP wants a minimum $1.4 million payment from Ormet to at least keep the lights on at the plant.
"Ormet has an outstanding bill for electric service, and we intend to disconnect service unless the company pays at least the uncontested portion of its bill," said AEP spokeswoman Tammy Ridout on Tuesday. "We are abiding by our contract with Ormet and if they don't pay their bill, we have a responsibility to our other ratepayers to disconnect a non-paying customer. The earliest we could disconnect service is Friday."
However, according to a court filing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, shutting down the power to the Ormet plant could allow groundwater to be flooded with hazardous chemicals such as arsenic and cyanide.
According to the EPA, Ormet agreed to a hazardous waste remediation plan by consent decree in 1995. Part of the plan calls for using hydraulic pumps to prevent the potentially dangerous materials from leaching into the groundwater. Electricity is required to keep the pumps running.
"Discontinuation of environmental obligations under the consent decree could pose substantial risks to public health and safety," the EPA states in its court filing. "Moreover, because the plant portion of the site has not yet been significantly investigated, it may pose additional threats to public health and safety."
Meanwhile, as displaced workers gathered for informational meetings at the United Steelworkers hall in Clarington on Tuesday, many said they felt helpless with the situation.
"We have no idea what will become of this place," said a 33-year employee of Ormet who asked not to be identified. "It has never gotten to this point. This might very well be the end."
John Puskar, staff representative for the USW, said displaced workers are facing a very challenging situation. Employees have lost their company-funded health care benefits, which he said can leave them with huge medical bills.
"One guy's wife has medication that costs about $6,000 per year. What are they supposed to do now?" Puskar wondered.
Officials with the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, as well as the Monroe County Department of Job & Family Services, were at the union hall Tuesday to offer advice and assistance to displaced workers. Puskar appreciates these officials coming to help, but said the reality of the tasks facing displaced employees remain daunting.
"Even with the retraining, where are they going to go to work?" he said. "Someone mentioned going to 'chef school.' Where is he going to work?"