WARREN - A decision from the Environmental Review Appeals Commission could be the death blow for Patriot Water Treatment Co., a spokesman said Wednesday.
"Patriot is extremely disappointed in the ERAC decision because it puts 25 direct jobs and dozens of related jobs in imminent danger," spokesman Vince Bevacqua said. "If nothing changes between now and Sunday, Patriot will have to shut down."
The ERAC on Wednesday refused to block the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's renewal permit that prohibits Warren's Water Pollution Control from receiving treated brine water.
The brine water is the byproduct of natural gas drilling. It is year-old Patriot's lone product. It sends its treated water through Warren Pollution Control for final treatment and discharge into local waterways.
The company has continued to operate this year while permits have been under appeal.
The ERAC decision essentially sends the case back to the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
In a related issue, today is the deadline for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and OEPA to file their last bit of pleadings regarding the question of jurisdiction before county Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan.
Patriot had requested an injunctive hearing on the permits. The judge postponed a March 21 pretrial hearing while the ERAC appeal played out. A restraining order would put on hold the permit banning brine and keep Patriot in business.
"There are some broad areas of Ohio law that need to have the courts in play," Bevacqua said.
The OEPA recently issued a renewal permit for the city Water Pollution Control that - while banning brine - eliminates restrictions on total dissolved solids for the plant and all companies who discharge to it. That makes EPA restrictions much more lenient for many Warren-area businesses.
The old permit expired Jan. 31.
OEPA spokesman Mike Settles said last week that the five-year National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit ''will allow them to attract new businesses. Warren should be able to bring in and process waters from other industries."
Warren Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said he doesn't think the issue as over yet but that the city is concerned.
"Although Warren is grateful for the no limit (on total dissolved solids) for five years, we do have concerns over the potential job loss and loss of revenue as a result of the ruling related to Patriot," Cantalamessa said.
Cantalamessa said the city is concerned about the job losses and an estimated $350,000 Patriot pays to the city for discharging to Water Pollution Control Center after treating the brine on site. He said income taxes from the employees and their contributions to the local economy are also potential problems if Patriot closes.
Cantalamessa also said the city did not budget a similar amount for 2012 because of the pending litigation - meaning, there is no fiscal hole that needs to be filled.
Last week, the ERAC ruled that OEPA Director Scott Nally had no standing to declare that the original permits that allowed brine, including the permit that allowed Patriot to open for business, were illegal. The OEPA has been contending since November that those permits were invalid.
Bevacqua noted that the appeals commission first ruled the original permits were legal but then this week refused to block the new permits. The ruling indicating that some areas of Ohio law relative to the permitting process that need some judicial input, Bevacqua said.
Attorney for Patriot April Bott of Bott Law Group LLC said the agency is working not only in Patriot's interest but in the interest of its employees.
"I don't want to forget the human element here that's very important to us. With respect to (Nally's) chosen actions, there are real lives that hang in the balance."