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Port authority accepts former Republic, RG land

Reward outweighs risks in taking industrial site

Staff file photo / R. Michael Semple In this 2018 file photo taken inside the Warren brownfield site that formerly housed the RG Steel mill, then-director of economic development projects for the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber Shea MacMillan describes plans for development. The Western Reserve Port Authority now has acquired the site and plans to ask the state’s economic development agency to redevelop it.

VIENNA — The Western Reserve Port Authority will ask the state’s economic development agency for a firm commitment to support the redevelopment of the former Republic Steel and RG Steel property, a request it waited to make until it acquired the legacy steel site.

That, in essence, happened Wednesday.

The port authority board agreed to accept the 825-acre former industrial site primed for redevelopment, but not without assurance there is a risk mitigation plan in place that includes insulating the port from environmental liabilities.

The transaction is expected to close in about 30 days.

It was August when port authority officials first met with former owner BDM Warren Steel Holdings LLC to start talks of taking control of the land at the recommendation of Ohio’s private economic development group, JobsOhio. BDM had at first wanted to donate the land to JobsOhio.

“This is the largest piece of property that JobsOhio will have to show in the state,” John Moliterno, port authority CEO, said. “Team NEO, which is JobsOhio’s partner in northeast Ohio, is extremely excited about this as well because they have no other site this size they are able to sell.”

The land south of downtown Warren on Pine Avenue SE stretches nearly 2 miles and touches five communities: Warren, Lordstown and Warren, Howland and Weathersfield townships.

Steel hasn’t been produced there since 2012. It has potential and some environmental cleanup has happened already.

The site is divided into four pieces, the largest chunk — about 300 acres — is the former steel mill. It also includes a greenfield, an access way in Lordstown that was supposed to be developed into a rail spur and two landfills, which contain the greatest environmental risk and contamination, said Joe Koncelik, an environmental attorney the port authority brought on to help.

An environmental consultant for BDM has provided the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency a letter stating the steelmaking portion has been remediated and asking for a covenant not to sue, which provides liability cover for future property owners.

The Ohio EPA has already signed off on a closure and financial assurance plan for the landfills, one of which contains slag that could be recycled or reused by BDM. The company is under administrative orders from the state to put into place the closure plan.

“There is an approved plan for dealing with both landfills with $5.7 million sitting in a trust that BDM will draw against. Ohio EPA controls the purse strings on that to make sure only legitimate expenditures are pulled from that trust fund and that gives the board confidence if it is taking ownership of the landfill property, the agency has verified there is a legitimate plan to address any remaining liability with those landfills and there is adequate funds to make sure it goes across the finish line, said Koncelik, Ohio EPA director under former Gov. Bob Taft, before Wednesday’s board vote.

The landfills, it’s hoped, will be capped and closed within a year. After, there is a three-year monitoring period.

It is unlikely the covenant not to sue will be issued before the transaction closes, but the port qualifies under Ohio’s bona fide purchaser defense law. It provides a liability defense providing, in this instance, the port could prove it adequately investigated the land from environmental standpoint and addressed all exposure to human health and the environment, Koncelik said.

Also, discussions are continuing with BDM to pay for additional environmental compliance matters estimated to cost $370,000.

“I am very comfortable making a recommendation to the port based on my 25-plus years of environmental law experience there are good strategies in place to protect the port from the historical environmental liability associated with that acreage,” Koncelik said.

The greenfield and property in Lordstown, which has no environmental issues, according to Koncelik, are ready to market.

rselak@tribtoday.com

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