L’Anse plants reach out after risk claims

L’ANSE – Officials at two L’Anse plants have reached out to the community after a formal petition was filed to a federal agency by a local resident, alleging some releases from the plants could pose a health risk.

Jeffery Loman, a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member with nearly 30 years of environmental management experience, filed a petition in February to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry seeking a public health assessment regarding the releases at L’Anse Warden Electric Company and CertainTeed in L’Anse.

A public health assessment could not be done as requested due to insufficient data, but an evaluation of the situation by the ATSDR said the releases could potentially be harmful. The situation was detailed in a May 11 Daily Mining Gazette article.

“The Plant operates in compliance with the terms and conditions of a recently renewed operating permit issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality,” said Steve Walsh, general manager and COO of Traxys Power Group, which operates LWEC. “The permit contains conditions established by the Department to assure protection of the public health and the environment, including potential toxicological effects.

“Monitoring has shown that the L’Anse Warden Power Plant is within all state, local and federal regulations and requirements for air and water quality.”

The Daily Mining Gazette initially reached out to Darryl Koski, operations manager at the Warden plant for comment. Koski referred all questions to J.R. Richardson, technical and regulatory affairs manager with Traxys, who is based out of the White Pine Electric Power office in White Pine.

Richardson forwarded via email the above comments from Walsh as part of a one-page response. A long list of additional questions was sent to Richardson, who said he, Walsh or Koski would answer the quesitons at an upcoming Citizens Advisory Panel meeting.

Traxys and LWEC held their first CAP meeting on April 15, and the next quarterly meeting is slated for 5 p.m. June 18 at the White Pine Electric Power office.

The panel event is not open to the public, but local citizens invited to the event include educators, health care professionals, environmental group representatives, local business and industry leaders, KBIC representatives, local political leaders and media members, including the Daily Mining Gazette.

“The purpose of the CAP is to reach out to our community and area stakeholders to communicate what we do in our day-to-day operations,” said Walsh, who will provide introduction and background before Koski and Richardson give an overview of the plant and field questions. “We would also like to gather information from the group, and set short- and long-term goals to continually improve our position as a safe, quality and environmentally friendly neighbor.”

Loman was pleased to see LWEC reach out to the community through the CAP, but he had not heard anything from CertainTeed at the time of the May 11 article. Since that time, Bob Gladwish, director of operations at CertainTeed Ceilings, has met with Loman for about two hours and answered questions from the Gazette.

“Jeffery values the health of residents and employees working in L’Anse just as we do. He has some concerns which he articulates well and I hope that we have been able to reassure him,” said Gladwish, who is based out of CertainTeed headquarters in Valley Forge, Pa.

Gladwish said the only alleged periods of permit noncompliance through the Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement and Compliance History Online database are for a permit for noncontact cooling water, which is water used to cool seals on air compressors.

“This water doesn’t come into contact with any contaminants,” said Gladwish, who denied any legacy pollution issues at the site, which was previously owned by Celotex.

He described LWEC as an “excellent neighbor and business partner,” and CertainTeed purchases 100 percent of its electricity from Warden. CertainTeed also uses waste steam to preheat its dryers, reducing the amount of natural gas used in the production of fireproof ceiling tiles.

“It is a low grade of steam that LWEC cannot use but still has enough energy in it for us to extract value,” he said. “LWEC occasionally burns broken wooden pallets that we cannot use. This is a win-win partnership.”

Gladwish said CertainTeed Corporation operates under a Vision-Mission-Values-Objectives system, with the top two values being “an absolute commitment to safety” and “respect for the environment.” The L’Anse plant is a member of the Millionaires Club earned by Saint Gobain plants that have operated over 1 million man-hours without a lost-time injury.

CertainTeed and the Village of L’Anse have worked together on several initiatives, including the village seeking funding from the State of Michigan, which helped expand operations in 2009 and 2012 and hire about 30 more employees. Upgrades to U.S. 41 and the Falls River Bridge were also made possible through a collaboration with the village, state and CertainTeed.

“All of the stakeholders in L’Anse – employees, suppliers, the Village and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community – should know that their opinions are valuable,” Gladwish said.

“If they have questions or concerns, they should not hesitate in contacting the L’Anse plant or our corporate office to express them.”

L’Anse Village Manager Bob LaFave, who is a member of the LWEC advisory panel, said he is not aware of any permit violations at either plant.

“My understanding is the plants they are meeting all of their environmental regulations with the EPA and DEQ,” said LaFave, who did say when LWEC first started up as a biomass plant there were some complaints of ash in the air, but they “haven’t had those issues in years.”

Loman was pleased with progress from LWEC in the May 11 Gazette article, saying, “The (LWEC) emission stack is going clean. … My sense is they’ve decided to put the nose to the grindstone.”

He added of his meeting with Gladwish: “The discussion was positive and fruitful. … I think (Gladwish) will assess the L’Anse operation carefully – and if there’s a problem he will find it and solve it. That’s exactly and precisely what I’d hope to achieve from the meeting.”