NEW INFO: New Plan Ordered for W.Va. Aluminum Site Cleanup

UPDATE 6/5/13 @ 5:55 p.m.
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ordering Century Aluminum to update its cleanup plan for a former industrial facility in Ravenswood.

The federal environmental agency is overseeing cleanup at the site that was used for the storage and disposal of hazardous materials that were byproducts of aluminum production.

Officials say soil and groundwater on the site is contaminated with cyanide, fluoride, lead, arsenic and other pollutants.

The cleanup work includes restoring contaminated groundwater to drinking water standards and controlling human and environmental exposure to hazardous wastes in the soil.

Aluminum production began at the site in 1957. Century Aluminum shut down the aluminum production operation in 2009 due to the low demand.

UPDATE 12/14/12 @ 3:52 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia regulators won't reconsider Century Aluminum's bid for a special electricity rate for its Jackson County plant.

The Public Service Commission on Friday denied the company's request to reconsider the rate proposed by regulators in October.

That plan allows a special electricity rate for the plant for up to 10 years. But it also keeps Century ultimately responsible for making up the difference between the rate and actual power costs.

Century had rejected the plan, saying it's insufficient to allow a restart of the plant, which was closed in 2009. It asked the PSC to reconsider and submitted two alternative plans.

Regulators said that if the company can't reopen the plant with the plan it proposed, Century can pursue discussions with other parties to reach a more acceptable rate.

UPDATE 11/19/12 @ 9:15 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Century Aluminum's bid for a special electricity rate for its Jackson County plant is expected to be addressed by state regulators again in December.

In a Friday filing, the Public Service Commission set a tentative Dec. 14 date to address the company's request that the agency reconsider the special rate it proposed in October.

The PSC's plan would allow a special electricity rate for the plant for up to 10 years. But it also keeps Century ultimately responsible for making up the difference between the rate and actual power costs.

Century rejected the plan, saying it's insufficient to allow a restart of the plant, which was closed in 2009.

The company later asked the PSC to reconsider its October ruling and submitted two alternative rate plans.

UPDATE 10/9/12 @ 3 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Century Aluminum is rejecting a proposal meant to aid the restart of its West Virginia smelter.

The California-based metals producer announced Tuesday that the electricity rate offer from the state Public Service Commission falls short.

The utility regulator proposed allowing a special electricity rate for Century's Ravenswood plant for up to 10 years. But the commission's ruling, issued last week, also kept Century ultimately responsible for making up the difference between that rate and actual power costs.

More than 650 people lost their jobs when the plant closed in 2009, and the company has since cancelled retiree health benefits.

Century says it's looking at other ways to restart the plant, and is also asking the commission to reconsider its decision.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., released the following statement about the decision:

“This is deeply disappointing news. The West Virginia Public Service Commission took a very serious look at this issue and created a path to allow Century Aluminum to reopen its Ravenswood smelter, but unfortunately, Century Aluminum is still not moving forward. I urge Century to do everything that it can to achieve what we have all been working toward -- reopening the plant, putting people back to work, and restoring health care benefits that workers and retirees have earned.”

UPDATE 10/4/12 @ 3:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A West Virginia aluminum plant would pay a special rate for electricity if it re-opens, but any savings would be short-lived.

That's the decision Thursday from the state Public Service Commission. The utility regulator's 70-page order sets out a plan meant to help Century Aluminum restart its smelter.

The Jackson County plant closed in 2009, idling more than 650 workers. Re-opening the plant would return hundreds of jobs while partly restoring retiree health benefits.

Thursday's plan would allow Century to pay a monthly electrical rate based on aluminum prices, as long as supplier Appalachian Power agrees.

Their agreement would last up to 10 years. After that, Century would face repaying the utility. Strong aluminum prices would make that much easier.

The plan also includes a $20 million annual tax credit.

If you would like to view a copy of the Commission Order, click here.

You can also access the Commission’s website, and referencing Case No. 12-0613-E-PC.

UPDATE 8/13/12 @ 10:45 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- State regulators have delayed the timeline for deciding whether to approve a special electricity rate for Century Aluminum's Jackson County plant.

Appalachian Power and several other parties told the Public Service Commission that they need more time to file additional briefs.

They say they haven't yet received transcripts of recent hearings in the case.

The PSC granted their request last week. The commission extended the deadline for filing briefs by about a week.

Century Aluminum says it needs to reduce the plant's electricity costs so that it can restart the operation.

The Ravenswood plant closed in 2009 and about 650 workers lost their jobs.

Century officials say they expect the PSC to issue a decision in mid-September.

Keep clicking on for the latest information.

UPDATE 7/31/12 @ 7:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The West Virginia Public Service Commission is in day two of a three-day hearing involving the reopening of Century Aluminum in Ravenswood.

The plant was once the largest employer in Jackson County, but it has been idle for about three years. The impact is undeniable.

“There are homes for sale; the food bank is empty every week. People are leaving Ravenswood. There are a lot of empty store fronts,” former Ravenswood Mayor Lucy Harbert said.

In hopes of reopening, Century is asking the PSC for a special power rate that could be adjusted based on the price of aluminum. Based on prices for the next three years, the cost for AEP customers is high.

“Customers could bear as much as $196 million in Century's electricity bill,” PSC consumer advocate director Byron Harris said.

For an average AEP customer, that breaks down to an extra $3 to $5 every month.

Century says as the aluminum market strengthens, that money would be paid back.

“The question in my mind is, ‘Do we want to take that risk?’ " Harris said.

To make that decision, the commission is hearing three days of testimony.

“There's a lot of information that needs to be imparted upon the commission in this process,” PSC communications director Susan Small said. “It's a very tough decision. There's so much to take into consideration.”

A decision about Century's power rate is expected to be made in September.

UPDATE 5/14/12 @ 8:40 p.m.
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Plans to re-open the Century Aluminum plant in Ravenswood have hit a major setback after an agreement on a special electric rate was unable to be reached.

Retirees, business owners and workers are holding on to hope, knowing they're unable to negotiate in this power struggle.

The Public Service Commission says Century and AEP have been unable to reach an agreement on the terms and conditions of a special electric rate for the plant.

"You meet one obstacle and you take care of that one and the obstacles still seem to be there," Ravenswood Mayor Lucy Harbert said.

For the town of Ravenswood, it's their lifeblood and to Jackson County, it means jobs. However, for retirees it meant some healthcare benefits were coming back. This latest disagreement means all bets are off.

"Neither side is going to get everything they want," retirees spokesperson Karen Gorrell said. "The retirees didn't either, but we did what was best for all people concerned. I'm waiting for Century Aluminum and Appalachian Power to do the same thing."

Once the retirees settled with the company, the Legislature approved a bill to give century a break. The state planned on footing part of the electric bill when the price of aluminum was down. However, with Century and AEP at offs, the Public Service Commission is forced to step in.

The PSC will determine through a lengthy process what kind of power rate, if any, is fair and reasonable to get the light and the plant back online.

"It now becomes the commission's responsibility to determine whether or not a special rate's appropriate and if it is what that rate should be," PSC spokesperson Susan Small said.

Century says getting that lower power rate was crucial to re-opening the plant.

That means more waiting, wondering and hoping the plant will start up again soon for many in the community.

"If we lose now, they might as well tear the plant down," Harbert said.

Century Aluminum shut down its smelter in Ravenswood in 2009. Nearly 650 people lost their jobs.

"It's time they grow up a little bit and think about all the lives they're having an impact on and what this is doing to them," Gorrell said.

From here, all of the major stake holders will have a chance to submit their arguments to the PSC. Then, the commission will review and consider those positions.

It's expected to take several months, and the commission should have an approved timetable in the next couple of weeks. Once an agreement is reached, the plant could be one step closer to opening.

UPDATE 5/11/12 @ 10:50 p.m.
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Plans to re-open the Century Aluminum plant in Ravenswood have hit a major setback.

The Public Service Commission says Century and AEP have been unable to reach an agreement on the terms and conditions of a special electric rate for the plant.

Century says getting that lower power rate was crucial to re-opening the plant.

Century Aluminum shut down its smelter in Ravenswood in 2009. Nearly 650 people lost their jobs.

UPDATE 4/2/12 @ 11:30 p.m.
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Another major hurdle has been cleared in the quest to get hundreds of people back to work.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed a bill into law Monday that creates tax credits helping the company to pay its electric bills in the event aluminum prices fall to a certain level.

Century Aluminum shut down its smelter in Ravenswood in 2009.

At the time, 650 people lost their jobs. The company also terminated health benefits to its retirees the next year.

Fast forward more than two years later: new senior management has taken over, and an agreement has been reached to restore some of those health benefits, leading to state leaders overwhelmingly approving the tax credits.

"We've not had any hope ever since it closed down. We're going on the third year now. It's had a big impact on me. I worked out there 38 years," says Franklin McCoy, a Century retiree.

Retirees camped out in front of the plant to make a point about wanting their benefits restored. They returned to that campsite Monday with a much more optimistic attitude about the Century’s future.

"As you saw by the vote of the legislature, basically unanimous, how important these jobs are to Jackson County,” Tomblin says.

Ravenswood Mayor Lucy Harbert pointed out the tax credit bill is the second step in the process of getting the plant started up again.

Managers say the company still needs to negotiate an electric rate it can afford and a labor contract.

"The public service commission is probably the biggest (challenge). It's the toughest. The labor, I don't think, is going to be quite as tough. In fact, I look for that to go quite well," says plant manager Gordon Hopper.

A few years ago, some people thought these things may never happen.

But now there's excitement about hundreds of jobs possibly coming back, helping this community to bounce back.

“They’re smiling now. They've just been in a depressed state. And now people are, they seem friendlier, and it's just a better whole atmosphere altogether," Harbert says.

Century managers aren't committing to a timeline for the plant to reopen, but local leaders hope it will be by the end of the year.

UPDATE 4/2/12 @ 3 p.m.
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia officials hope a major tax break will help reopen a Jackson County aluminum plant.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is visiting Ravenswood on Monday for the signing of the legislation meant to aid Century Aluminum.

More than 650 people lost their jobs when the California-based company shut down the smelter in 2009. The tax credits are part of a plan that could see the facility restart by August.

They would allow Century to save up to $20 million annually for 10 years on electricity costs when aluminum prices are weak.

Tomblin proposed the credits after Century and its retirees reached a hard-fought agreement over health benefits.

The remaining hurdles for the plant to reopen include the global aluminum market and a new labor contract.

UPDATE 3/16/12 @ 11:58 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A closed West Virginia aluminum plant could benefit from a $20 million-a-year tax credit if it reopens.

The Legislature passed a special session measure Friday from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to aid Century Aluminum.

The California-based company has discussed restarting the Jackson County smelter it idled in 2009. About 650 people lost their jobs.

Century later halted retiree health benefits. The retirees fought to regain that coverage. They agreed Thursday to a deal that should partly restore benefits.

That agreement cleared the way for Friday's bill. It would allow the Ravenswood plant to seek special reduced rates for electricity. The utility could then recoup its costs through the 10-year tax credit. Weak aluminum prices would trigger this arrangement.

Remaining hurdles for Century include a new labor agreement.

UPDATE 3/15/12 @ 10:50 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Retirees of a West Virginia aluminum plant have accepted a deal that should partly restore their health benefits.

Thursday's evening vote in Jackson County was a key hurdle as Century Aluminum seeks state aid to restart its idled smelter.

The Ravenswood plant employed around 650 people when it shut down in 2009. The company then began cutting off retiree health coverage.

Karen Gorrell has helped fight for the lost benefits. She estimated that more than 400 retirees attended Thursday's meeting.

Gorrell said Century has agreed to pay at least $44 million over the next decade toward coverage. Retirees not yet eligible for Medicaid would pay premiums. Gorrell said benefits for older retirees are still being discussed.

Lawmakers now expect to consider a tax break for Century on Friday.

UPDATE 3/15/12 @ 9 p.m.
JACKSON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Century Aluminum retirees in West Virginia voted Thursday to accept a new health care deal from the company.

Century closed its plant in 2009 and cut health care benefits to the retirees in 2010.

When the Ravenswood plant closed 650 people lost their jobs.

This is the first major step to having those jobs come back to Ravenswood.

Now that the proposal is approved by attendees, Governor Tomblin is expected to call a special legislative session to vote on a tax break bill.

Century Aluminum may see tax breaks up to $20 million to help restart their operations in Jackson County.

Century has said other factors that must be resolved include a competitive labor agreement and an energy contract.

UPDATE 3/12/12 @ 8 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Century Aluminum retirees in West Virginia are considering a proposal that would restore at least some of their health care benefits.

Retirees are scheduled to vote Thursday at Ravenswood High School on the company's offer.

Century closed its smelter in Ravenswood in 2009 and dropped retirees' health care coverage in 2010.

Randy Moore with the United Steelworkers says that he's optimistic about Thursday's vote. He says the proposal won't restore all of the retirees' benefits but it will provide meaningful health care.

Approval of the deal would remove a major hurdle in the quest to restart the plant. Century has said other factors that must be resolved include a competitive labor agreement and an energy contract.

UPDATE 2/29/12 @ 11:10 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Century Aluminum appears close to restarting its shuttered West Virginia plant.

A major impasse stems from the company's decision in December 2010 to drop health coverage for its retirees. The Ravenswood factory closed in 2009, costing more than 600 workers their jobs.

But Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office on Wednesday said the company and retirees appear on the verge of an agreement.

"Oh, it's a life-saver," says retiree John Morris.

Karen Gorrell adds, "Hopefully now, they're going to have a chance to retire with dignity."

Gorrell headed up the committee of retirees that's pushed to get health benefits restored.

The group set up a camp site called "Occupy Century Aluminum" near the plant in an effort to draw attention to the cause.

"You only have to look across this country to see the people that have had their benefits stolen by corporate America, and Karen wouldn't let the happen to us," Morris says.

Tomblin Chief of Staff Rob Alsop said resolving this impasse should clear the way for Century to restart the plant.

"And now they've won. We have a long way to go. There a lot of things that have to be put in place. But, this was the biggest factor, the most important one," says Raamie Barker, senior adviser to Tomblin.

A Century spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

If a deal is reached, the Legislature will likely be asked to consider a tax credit tied to aluminum prices. The proposal aims offset initial losses that Century would suffer once the plant restarts.

UPDATE 2/26/12 @ 9:30 p.m.
JACKSON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Plans are in the works to potentially reopen the Century Aluminum plant and bring back hundreds of jobs.

Century Aluminum used to employ more than 650 workers, however, the plant closed in 2009 leaving hundreds without work and affecting the city, county and state economies.

The company also promised to continue paying health benefits to retirees but in January 2011, Century cut off health coverage to many of its retirees.

Retirees met with company officials for the third time Sunday to try and reach an agreement and get their benefits back. There's no word yet on the meeting's outcome.

The state of West Virginia has refused to provide economic incentives to help Century reopen unless it first gives back what retirees say they deserve.

"It is the only right and moral thing for Century Aluminum to do," Century Retiree Committee representative Karen Gorrell said. "It is the only right thing for the state to do to stand up for its people, and they have done it tremendously."

More than a dozen retirees are on a mission to reclaim their healthcare benefits by occupying outside the entrance to Century Aluminum for several months.

"This is going to be the greatest success story there ever was...if we can pull it off," Gorrell said. "We're just a small group of little people and we are determined and we have passion and God is on our side."

Reinstating the retiree benefits is the only first step in order for the plant to reopen. If the plant does in fact reopen, the mayor of Ravenswood says it will put 450 workers back inside the plant.

"We've got homes up for sale and our food bank is emptied every week," Mayor Lucy Harbert said. "So we just need the jobs."

"I want it to reopen," retiree Jim Weltner said. "In fact I know people that would be willing to go out of retirement to help them reopen."

Weltner added, "Besides improving the employment, it would improve the economy of Jackson County and really help the county and the state."

But it would also help those who relied on Century employees for their business. Mike Kelly owns a mower and bike repair shop in Ravenswood and has seen a decrease in business, and more scrap metal.

"A lot of people call it junk but since the plant's been closed, this pile's gotten larger and larger and larger," M.A.K. Repair owner Michael Kelly said.

Surplus in parts is just one trend Kelly has seen including less traffic, less money and lower morale in the community. However, recently the attitudes and perceptions have shifted.

"They just have a little bit of hope and they're willing to spend that last dollar thinking they might get another one," Kelly said. "I hope that's what's going to happen."

If an agreement is reached with the retirees, Century will continue to work with the state to reach an incentive deal.

The legislature is working on a bill to address the company's electric bill. Once that's worked out, the union will negotiate a contract with Century before the doors official reopen.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Century Aluminum hopes to restart a West Virginia plant this year.

Century CEO Michael Bless says conditions are favorable to restart the Ravenswood plant. He cites discussions with union, state, utility and regulatory representatives and recent improvements in the aluminum market outlook.

Reports say that Bless discussed the plant Thursday during a conference call with shareholders and industry analysts. He says reopening the plant is a top priority for 2012.

Century Aluminum closed the plant in 2009 and laid off more than 600 workers. The company ended health care benefits for retirees in December 2010.

Bless says it would cost $70 million to restart the plant this year.

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