Power staying on at Ormet

HANNIBAL – Ormet finally scored a win with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, as the shuttered aluminum producer will be able to at least keep the lights on until the end of its bankruptcy proceedings.

Officials with Ormet and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency feared that if American Electric Power disconnected service to the plant today as planned, hazardous materials such as arsenic and cyanide would have flooded the Ohio groundwater because electric pumps that prevent the waste from leaking would have stopped running.

According to a PUCO ruling issued late Wednesday, AEP must maintain electricity to Ormet as “a reasonable means to protect the public from the potential environmental harm that may result from Ormet’s disconnection.”

“We will abide by the commission’s order and are working with Ormet on a weekly prepayment plan that will apply going forward through the pendency of the bankruptcy proceeding,” AEP spokeswoman Terri Flora said Thursday.

Ormet CEO Mike Tanchuk announced the full shutdown of the Hannibal plant on Oct. 4, after the PUCO refused to lower Ormet’s AEP costs as much as Ormet requested. This leaves nearly 1,000 workers wondering whether they have worked their last shifts at the Monroe County plant.

Emphasizing the company faced high electric bills coupled with low aluminum prices, Ormet filed for bankruptcy in February. The company later announced a planned $221 million sale to Minnesota-based Wayzata, but officials said this transaction required convincing the PUCO to allow Ormet to have lower AEP bills.

Meanwhile, John Puskar, staff representative for the United Steelworkers, said displaced Ormet workers are facing a very challenging situation. Employees have lost their company-funded health care benefits, which he said can leave them with huge medical bills.

At the Monroe County Department of Jobs and Family Services office in Woodsfield, laid off Ormet employees covered under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice can receive new job training. For example, the agency can pay for someone to train to receive a commercial driver’s license to become a truck driver, or pay for someone to become a certified welder. Call the agency at 740-472-1602 for more information.

Displaced workers seeking unemployment compensation should call 877-644-6562, or go to unemployment.ohio.gov.