From the Middletown Journal Editorial Page
City's need for SunCoke remains
Sunday, December 14, 2008
A lot has changed since last May when we acknowledged that Middletown City Council had made a difficult but correct decision in approving a rezoning that paves the way for a new coke-producing plant to benefit AK Steel's local steelmaking facility.
What has changed? The American economy has nosedived into the worst recession in generations. Middletown's economy, which had already been struggling, needs the many jobs that will come with construction of SunCoke Energy's $340 million facility in the city's southwestern corner, as well as the permanent jobs that will remain when the plant is up and running. Garden Manor Extended Care Center, one of the original opponents of the plan, has dropped its opposition after SunCoke agreed to move coke oven batteries away from the nursing home, to another part of its planned site. Garden Manor, with some 400 jobs, had threatened to close or relocate if Middletown approved the rezoning.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has approved a permit for the facility. Middletown's desperate need for this economic shot in the arm was emphasized with the city's inclusion last week on Forbes.com's list of the top 10 "fastest-dying" towns in America. (Middletown was No. 10.) The SunCoke facility itself will not turn around the local economy, but by providing coke and electricity to the Middletown Works it will help to secure AK Steel jobs here for years to come. City Council's decision was difficult because of the opposition from Garden Manor and several Monroe residents who live near the SunCoke site.
Although Garden Manor dropped its objections and lawsuit, the neighbors who understandably do not want a coke-producing plant in their back yards have continued to protest and have won the support of Monroe City Council, which has chosen to spend tax dollars to fight in court a project that would benefit the entire region's economy during this recession. We're disappointed that Monroe council members have been drawn into this conflict and rejected recent pleas from the local Chamber of Commerce and the Butler County Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL/CIO, which support the project and the jobs it will create.
Most unfortunate is the widening rift that appears to be forming between the two local governments. Monroe council members not only stood firm on their plan to challenge the EPA permit, but voted to drop out of the Chamber of Commerce which serves businesses in Middletown, Monroe and Trenton. Council members are discussing joining another chamber or starting a Monroe chamber. We respect Monroe officials' loyalty to the affected constituents and their desire to stand apart from Middletown marked most dramatically several years ago by Monroe's secession from the Middletown City School District but there's little they can do to change Monroe's geographic location.
Monroe is Middletown's southern neighbor, and Middletown is a steel town plain and simple with all the associated grime and pollution that comes with a large steelmaking facility. It's difficult to believe that anyone who has bought a home within five miles of Middletown isn't aware that there's a big, untidy steel mill there that has provided good livings for generations of Middletown-area and Monroe residents for more than a century. As much as Monroe officials might want to disassociate with Middletown, they cannot built a bubble over their town. One thing that hasn't changed since last May?
This debate still is a NIMBY argument. NIMBY, of course, stands for "Not In My Back Yard." The opponents, including Monroe council, want it both ways: They say they are not opposed to a new coke plant but chiefly oppose its location, close to Monroe's boundary, because of air-pollution concerns. Never mind the fact that any change in location would merely shift any pollution problems to someone else's back yard. As chamber officials noted on this page last week, it's unlikely that Monroe's gesture will halt construction of the SunCoke plant or stand in the way of Suncoke's planned 20-year partnership with AK Steel. Instead of spending public money fighting another town's economic development efforts, we would prefer to see Monroe work with Middletown and the two companies to address and mitigate any and all environmental concerns.
Middletown simply cannot afford to turn its back on the new jobs SunCoke would bring to southwest Ohio and the AK Steel jobs that would be protected by this large investment. We hope our neighbors in Monroe, who also stand to benefit from this project, will tell their elected officials to get out of progress' way.