UPDATE: AK Steel Coke Plant in Ashland Demolished

By: Olivia Fecteau; WSAZ News Staff Email
By: Olivia Fecteau; WSAZ News Staff Email

Statement from Gov. Steve Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying in part:


"We are deeply disappointed by AK Steel's decision to close their coke plant.” Beshear said he personally spoke with AK Steel management “to offer Kentucky's assistance to keep the coke plant open, including economic development tools that could have helped them to reinvest in their operation … While this news is disheartening, we are still appreciative of the steel operations AK maintains in eastern Kentucky, and we will continue to actively assist AK Steel in sustaining ... those operations."


Beshear said the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet's Rapid Response Team will be working with the employees affected by this announcement. AK Steel had hinted that the shutdown was possible in filings earlier this month with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


b>UPDATE 8/18/13 @ 5:50 p.m.
ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) – A building implosion more than two years in the making lasted just 15 seconds Sunday morning, as the AK Steel Coke Plant in Ashland was demolished shortly before 9:30 a.m.

For Steven Bevis, a former coke plant worker, seven years of memories went along with it.

The plant, which closed in 2011, produced a fuel made by baking coal in large ovens. It is a key material in making steel.

“It was a very hot, hard, nasty job, but the people we worked with were really great people,” Bevis said. “That was why, for me today, it was kind of sad to see it go.”

Bevis and several of his former coworkers came to watch the demolition Sunday morning. For them and the workers who lost their jobs when the coke plant closed, the plant provided a living.

“Not only did it provide well for my family and the community, but also had a lot of friends from there,” Bevis said. “Kind of sad, to be honest with you, to see it go away. […] You're not only seeing the memories and the history we had there, but also a loss for our community as well.”

Kelli Runyon, who lives in Ironton, came to watch the implosion with some of her friends.

“It's going to be a lot cleaner, because it was just so black on the sides of the road and stuff, and it was kind of stinky,” Runyon said.

Runyon, a stay-at-home mother, said she would like to see something built at the site to bring in new jobs.

“We don't have any jobs around here, so that really was bad,” Runyon said. “But as long as they build something that's going to bring more jobs, that'd be great.”

“I think when they do stuff like that and tear it down, they should build more, because the way things are today, you can just barely make it,” Melissa Ross, Runyon’s friend, said. “With the economy, people losing their jobs, we need more stuff to come back to this place so more people can work.”

Bevis and Runyon both said they were surprised at how quickly the demolition was over.

“It was really fast. I drive by here every day on the way to my new job, and I've kind of watched the progress of it, you know, as it's been torn down,” Bevis said.

“I figured it'd take longer but it didn't,” Runyon said. “It was a big bang and then it was done. I didn't even have time to get out my camera.”

The site will remain empty until it can be cleaned up in accordance with EPA regulations.

“A timely clean-up and redevelopment of the plant is essential for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the City of Ashland,” U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement earlier this week. “Allowing the Kentucky [Energy and Environment Cabinet] to lead the clean-up effort will expedite this process. The sooner the property can be cleaned and redeveloped, the sooner it can be purchased by another industrial user and create jobs in the Ashland community.”

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

b>UPDATE 8/16/13 @ 10 p.m.
ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Implosion of the former AK Coke Plant will happen sometime from 8 to 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, Ashland Police say.

Prior to the implosion, all occupied vehicles in parking lots between Winchester Avenue from its intersection with Chatteroi Street and 43rd Street will be removed. The Ashland Police Department will block Winchester Avenue at these intersections, as well as 39th Street, for approximately six minutes for the implosion.

Motorists may experience traffic delays during this time frame.

The plant, which closed in 2011, had employed 263 people. The coke plant produced a fuel made by baking coal in large ovens and is a key material in making steel.

Crews say the implosion will be loud and could cause some shaking of the ground.

UPDATE 8/16/13 @ 12:55 p.m.
ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Demolition is scheduled for this weekend at the old AK Steel Coke Plant in Ashland.

The plant, which closed in 2011, had employed 263 people. The coke plant produced a fuel made by baking coal in large ovens and is a key material in making steel.

The buildings at the plant are scheduled to be imploded on Sunday, August 18.

The work is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the site on Winchester Avenue.

Crews say the implosion will be loud and could cause some ground shaking.

UPDATE 10/29/12
ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Demolition of the former Ashland Coke Plant is expected to start in the near future.

The plant, which closed in 2011, had employed 263 people. The coke plant produced a fuel made by baking coal in large ovens and is a key material in making steel.

Barry Racey a spokesperson for AK Steel, which owns the plant, tells WSAZ.com that the demolition should be completed by mid 2013. Racey declined to give an exact start date for the demolition

As for the future of the site, Racey hopes the property can be used for economic development in the future. He says it is still too early to discuss anything in detail.

The coke plant had been considered non-compliant with the Clean Air Act for about three years before its closing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

UPDATE 1/13/11 @ 3:30 p.m.
ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Union workers say some equipment is already offline as the shutdown of the AK Steel Coke Plant steams ahead.

The corporation says costs are too steep to correct EPA air quality violations. Including both union and contracted workers, some 500 jobs will be lost. But, estimated community losses from this major plant closing are now coning into a clear and costly view.

Like so many in the Ashland area, tire shop owner Steve Jackson has generational ties to long standing industries, like the AK Steel Coke Plant.

Steve Jackson tells us that his grandfather was a senior clerk there years ago, in the 1920s and 1930s, one of the big wheels at the coke plant. Jackson said he hates to see those jobs go.

Ashland City Commissioner Kevin Gunderson notes the EPA is a regulatory agency more difficult to deal with than the IRS. He wishes they would be more lax in recessionary times.

Coke plant closing concerns from Ashland School Superintendent and former Mayor Steve Gilmore, and city commission president Kevin Gunderson are underscored by the hard loss numbers now tallied.

Ashland loses $1.2M annually in coke plant water bills
The school district loses up to $100,000 annually in coke plant tax revenue.

“In this fiscal year, we lose $400,000, next year $1.2M. We have to tighten our belts and hopefully it will not include any employee layoffs,“ Gunderson said.

“We have 29 families directly affected to the coke plant, that’s 44 students, it could be a major hit,” Superintendent Steve Gilmore said.

But maybe the greatest concern is that this more than century old plant site, in a prime river and rail area for redevelopment, not be abandoned.

"When they talked about potentially closing that plant eight to nine years ago, we informed them they need not think they can walk away from that property," Superintendent Gilmore said. "It's polluted, and if it's used again, there has to be a massive clean up.”

Coke plant union leaders met with AK Steel managers this week, and said they were told that maybe 100 to 120 of the 263 member employees will go to other AK Steel facilities, most at the nearby Ashland works. They said they were also told severance packages would be paid according to contract.

And, as of now, current retiree’s benefits would be paid and the shutdown, now well underway , will come no late than the end of March.

UPDATE 12/28/10 @ 6:30 p.m.
ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Hundreds of jobs will soon end as a major area employer decides to close a plant.

AK Steel says the air quality violations at its Ashland coke plant will cost too much to fix. Local leaders say the ripple effects will be felt region wide.

Everyone thought they had more time. Mayors, senators and governors were working hard to find the incentives to keep the half century old plant alive. The plant converts raw coal to steel-burning coke.

But a reported $50 million fix cost, as well as new coke suppliers available, forced a corporate decision -- leaving nearly 500 workers wondering what's next?

When one worker was asked what he would do next, he said, "I'll have faith in the Lord and look for a new job."

While many coke plant workers looked for guidance, surprised union leaders read over the termination letter.

AK Steel says the increased maintenance and stringent environmental regulations simply make the old plant no longer cost competitive. The permanent shutdown starts immediately

The corporation said it would do it's best to find jobs for the 263 hourly and salaried employees affected.

Union leader Barry Webb told us, "Many here are accustomed to living a lifestyle based on their jobs at the plant. Many, myself included, really have no idea right now what we will do next."

Rank-and-file worker Larry Phelps added, "There are politics involved.
We hope that the state or federal government will step in and help, but right now it doesn't look good."

Union leaders say there are 200 to 300 additional long-term contracted workers at the plant on any given day -- workers like T.J. Toler, who is a contractor.

"Lots of guys like me that have worked here for eight to 10 years, we'll be out of a job, too," Toler said.

Ashland city leaders, losing millions in fees and taxes, worry most about AK Steel leaving them with a polluted unmarketable Brownfield site.

"This city commission has given every tax incentive imaginable to AK Steel," Commissioner Kevin Gunderson said. "They have to clean this plant up and leave it with a green light for environmental."

Ashland will lose up to $2 million a year in payroll taxes and utility fees from the coke plant.

AK Steel says it has new sources of coke to meet its blast furnace needs. Many say that would be Sun Coke Facilities, opening soon in Middleton Ohio, and already nearby in Haverhill, Ohio. Reliable sources say maybe soon in Greenup County, Ky., too.

Union leaders say they will talk about relocation jobs with AK Steel next week.

UPDATE 12/28/10 @ 12:05 p.m.
ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- More than 200 people will soon be looking for a job.

AK Steel announced Tuesday afternoon the Ashland Coke Plant will permanently close next year. The plant currently employs 263 people.

The company said it will do its best to provide jobs for the affected employees at its Ashland Works or elsewhere in the company.

Procedures for the closure will begin immediately and are expected to be completed early in the second quarter of 2011.

In a release the company stated that the decision to close the facility was made because the coke plant is no longer cost competitive. An increased maintenance and increasingly stringent environmental regulations are to blame, said the release.

AK Steel said that while the company's goal is to be more self-sufficient in steelmaking raw materials, "further operation of the Ashland Coke Plant is not in the best interests of the company and its shareholders."

“AK Steel recognizes that this is a difficult time for the employees who are affected,” said James L. Wainscott, Chairman, President and CEO of AK Steel. “We are committed to helping them as much as possible during this transition, including, where possible, placing them in jobs available elsewhere at the Ashland Works or other operations within the corporation. The Commonwealth of Kentucky has been very supportive of our goal to make Ashland Works more competitive and we appreciate those ongoing efforts.”

The coke plant is currently one of Ashland's largest employers.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

Governor Steve Beshear issued the following statement on AK Steel's aannouncement

“We are deeply disappointed by AK Steel’s decision to close their coke plant. The operation has been a source of more than 200 good-paying jobs and its closure will have a hard-felt impact on those affected.

In addition to discussions with AK Steel led by the Economic Development Cabinet, I personally spoke with senior leadership of AK to offer Kentucky’s assistance to keep the coke plant open, including economic development tools that could have helped them to re-invest in their operation. Ultimately, the company determined that the costs to upgrade the facility were prohibitive and would make it non-competitive.

While this news is disheartening, we are still appreciative of the steel operations AK maintains in Eastern Kentucky, and we will continue to actively assist AK Steel in sustaining and growing those operations. In addition, we will aggressively pursue any and all other future opportunities to grow employment in the area.

The Education and Workforce Development Cabinet’s Rapid Response Team will be working with the employees affected by this announcement. We want to keep Kentuckians working, and we are doing everything we can to keep good jobs in this state.”

ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- The owners of the Ashland Coke Plant could face a difficult decision in the future.

That is whether to keep the plant open or close it.

Financial reports filed by AK Steel cite high costs associated with meeting EPA standards and very old equipment as reasons the plant may have to close.

Alan McCoy, Vice President of Government and Public Relations for AK Steel tells WSAZ.com, it is a "definite possibility."

"We have done our best to maintain equipment," said McCoy. "The added cost [of replacing the equipment] might make it uneconomical to keep producing coke."

McCoy also tells WSAZ.com that AK Steel should be able to secure enough product from its other locations even if the plant does shut down in the future.

The Coke Plant is one of Ashland's largest employers, with about 240 employees.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.

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