WARREN - Patriot Water Treatment President Andrew Blocksom announced Friday that as of midnight today the company will issue two-week notices to all of their 25 employees, as the facility prepares to cease operations indefinitely.
A ruling by the Environmental Review Appeals Commission Wednesday said that the commission will not honor Patriot's request to block a renewal permit issued by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency that bans Warren's Water Pollution Control facility from accepting Patriot's treated brine water.
The water, which is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling, is Patriot's sole product and the sole reason the company opened.
Patriot Water Treatment President Andrew Blocksom and attorney April Bott explain the latest court ruling Friday involving the future of the Warren plant.
Patriot and Warren also sought injunctive relief from Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew Logan. On March 14, Logan denied a request for a temporary restraining order against the issuance of a renewal permit. OEPA issued the permit over that weekend, set with an effective date of April 1.
Warren and Patriot have since filed multiple motions between ERAC and Logan's office. A ruling by ERAC last week stated that OEPA Director Scott Nally did not have legal standing to declare the original permits illegal, which has been OEPA's contention since November 2011.
Wednesday's ruling, however, came as a blow and forced Patriot to hold out for the possibility of a court order that would allow them to remain in business. OEPA and their co-defendant Ohio Department of Natural Resources along with co-plaintiffs Patriot and Warren offered their respective arguments to Logan's court regarding jurisdiction.
Friday, just as Patriot's local attorney Martin White was preparing to file another temporary restraining order request, Logan issued his ruling that his court did not have jurisdiction in the case. Logan referred the case back to ERAC.
"This was an opportunity for the court to say, 'yes, jobs are important,' and we're saddened that they didn't take that opportunity," Blocksom said Friday. Still he added that he doesn't want to "second-judge the court."
A new hearing is scheduled before ERAC on April 24, and Blocksom said his company is exploring options to resume operations before that date.
Attorney April Bott, of Bott Law Group in Dublin, suggested that the ruling is not about Patriot and is really about the overreach of state authority.
"This has a ripple effect, and it is chilling," she said.
Blocksom said he is optimistic about the April hearing, but also said he is still waiting for an answer from Nally as to why there is, in Blocksom's opinion, a vendetta against Patriot. Bott said the OEPA and state attorneys have fought "viciously" every time her client has attempted to depose Nally.
"Literally, Director Scott Nally told me in a meeting 'I don't like what you do' and that's the only explanation we've had in a year of this," Blocksom said. "I've been spending every dollar we make to fight them with attorneys, and now they want to cut away my blood and air supply... . But, man if we don't prevail, who's going to be next?"
Blocksom said his employees will be eligible for unemployment benefits and will work for the next two weeks helping to clean the facility and prepare for what he hopes will be a reopening in a little more than a month.
Warren Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said Wednesday that Warren stands to lose $350,000 in annual revenue from Patriot's closure if it were permanent, although that money was not budgeted and leaves no gap to fill. Cantalamessa also said he is unsure how much the city will lose in income taxes from the loss of 25 jobs.
Mike Settles of the EPA has stated that the new permit issued to Patriot does not ban them from treating brine, but would require them to find a different approved use for it other than sending it to Warren. He also said Patriot can now accept up to 280,000 gallons daily of industrial waste as opposed to the 100,000 gallons of brine under the old permit.
Blocksom said such a change would require an additional investment of millions of dollars as his system is designed specifically for treating the brine. He said he would also have to retrain his workers at the company's expense, investments he says he is unwilling to make based on a permit that could be revoked again.
"We're going to look for any potential legal remedy to get our people back to work. We feel one job is as critical as another, and these people need their jobs very badly," he said.