North Star Steel critics, employees clash over jobs vs. clean air at ADEQ hearing

Arguments at a Thursday night public hearing on whether the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality should issue a major-source air quality permit to North Star Steel boiled down to clean air vs.

jobs.

Opponents cited North Star Steel's violation of its existing permit – which led the state to levy a $7.75 million fine – and expressed fears that air quality would deteriorate if ADEQ were to issue a major-source permit.

"I don't feel this here permit should be issued to North Star Steel," said Joe Byford, a retired Teamster who lives at Walnut Creek Estates, less than a mile from the factory.

"I don't believe we should breathe this air."

However, North Star Steel employees expressed fears about losing their jobs, and said they are working for a company committed to high standards, teamwork and a clean environment.

"North Star Steel is trying to be an innovator in the steel industry," said Teresa Cuckovich, a Los Angeles transplant who is the quality assurance and technology manager.

"I have never worked for a finer group of people.

It pains me to see the loss of jobs."

Both sides argued their points before ADEQ hearing officer Martha Seaman during a hearing that lasted nearly two hours and drew an audience of more than 50 people to the gym at Hualapai Elementary School.

More than 20 people spoke out during the hearing.

The major-source permit would allow the mini-mill to emit 3,185 tons of carbon monoxide, 584 tons of nitrogen oxides, 223 tons of inhalable particulate matter, 186 tons of volatile organic compounds, 105 tons of sulfur dioxide and 1.3 tons of lead per year.

By contrast, the minor-source permit allows North Star Steel to emit 100 tons per each pollutant a year, said Barbara Sprungl, environmental engineering associate with the air quality permit section of ADEQ.

The agency fined the company after determining North Star Steel operated without the proper permit, installed and operated unpermitted equipment, failed to test the plant in a timely manner and for numerous violations of its permit.

And while North Star Steel would be allowed to emit more pollutants under the major-source permit, it would face tougher pollution controls.

Pollution control measures and equipment would include a scrap management plan to minimize volatile organic compounds and trace metal emissions, a direct-shell evacuation control system, a baghouse on the melt shop exhaust, low-nitrogen oxide burners on the reheat furnace and vacuuming of paved roads.

However, some speakers did not think the controls are stringent enough.

"I would ask you to look at the controls and the modeling," Kingman hypnotherapist Barbara Mynhier said.

Mynhier, who moved here from Phoenix, urged ADEQ to allow North Star Steel to continue to operate if the company can adhere to the minor-source permit.

Speaking to North Star Steel employees, she said, "I think the majority of us who spoke tonight don't want to shut you down.

Yeah, I know you got to have industry in your backyard.

We're asking you to comply with the initial permit."

Contacted after the meeting, North Star Steel plant manager Jim Crompton said, "I think it is great, all the people coming and talking about the issues.

ADEQ will look at them now.

If there are any questions they need from us, we will address them."

North Star Steel, which has about 130 employees, manufactures steel wire rods and reinforcement bars for the construction industry using recycled materials.

The company opened the mini-mill in 1996 on a 425-acre site off Shinarump Drive and Interstate 40.

North Star Steel shut down its melt shop last December because of the permit status, the high cost of electricity and the soft market for rebar, Crompton has said.

ADEQ extends deadline for comment period

Area residents who want to influence the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality on whether to issue a major-source air quality permit to North Star Steel have until Dec.

1 to submit comments.

ADEQ hearing officer Martha Seaman agreed Thursday to extend the period from that evening through Dec.

1 at the request of environmental activist Jack Ehrhardt of Citizens for Future Generations.

Ehrhardt stated in a letter that his group needed an additional month to review the application.

ADEQ will review comments made during the public hearing as well as written statements submitted to the agency, said Barbara Sprungl, environmental engineering associate of the air quality permit section for ADEQ.

Sprungl could not give an idea how soon ADEQ will decide whether to issue the permit.

"What happens now because of the comments period ends Dec.

1, we'll allow approximately five days for outlying mail, and we'll review every comment," Sprungl said.

"We will begin our process of developing our responsiveness survey.

We evaluate every comment before we make our decision."

Written comments may be submitted to Nancy Wrona, director, Division of Air Quality, ADEQ, 3033 N.

Central Ave., Phoenix 85012.

For more information, call Eric Massey at (602) 207-2288 or (800) 234-5677, extension 2288.