Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 30, 2012

Coming down

Demolishing old coke plant positive sign for community

The Independent

ASHLAND — After more than a year of inactivity, something is finally being done on the 138-acre site of the closed Ashland Coke Plant. That’s the first step toward what we hope will lead to new life for the largest tract of industrial land inside Ashland’s city limits.

While it is much too early to speculate on what the future may hold for the site, it was a certainty that little or nothing was going to be accomplished until the old coke plant — which provide good-paying industrial jobs in this community for 92 years until being closed in 2011 —  has been demolished and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined the site is not a “brown field” and is safe for new development.

AK Steel — which is responsible for cleanup of the site since it owns the land — has received a permit to demolish the plant and awarded a contract to NCM Demolition and Remediation, a company that is based in Brea, Calif., and has offices throughout the country, including Cincinnati. The company specializes in demolishing old plants and restoring industrial property, which is what it we be doing in Ashland. Demolition could to begin this week.

“We don’t know if it will take a year or a month,” said Ashland City Manager Steve Corbitt of the demolition. While the city awards the permits for the work, it is not involved in the process, the city manager said. However, Corbitt is quick to point out that AK Steel will have to adhere to state and federal regulations for dismantling the plant and any environmental cleanup. That’s as it should be, and those regulations provide assurances that the work will be done properly.

One needs to look no further than New Boston, Ohio, for encouragement that land that once was the site of a coke plant can be redeveloped.  A large shopping center that includes a Walmart and a number of other retail businesses and restaurants now is located on the site of the old New Boston Coke Plant. It took a few years for the property to be ready for new development, but what was once an eyesore that was a constant reminder of the community’s industrial past now is one of the busiest shopping centers in New Boston and Ports-mouth.

That kind of retail development is unlikely to happen on the site of the AK Coke Plant. While located along busy Winchester Avenue, the site can only be reached by crossing the busy CSX railroad tracks. While the tracks could be an obstacle to retail development, they combine with the adjacent Ohio River and the existence of more than 100 acres of level land to make the property ideal for industrial development. Once the land is cleared for development by the EPA, area community development leaders should market it as prime industrial property.

While providing hope that new life can be found for old coke plant property, the experience in New Boston also tells us that we must be patient. It took more than a decade for the New Boston property to be developed, and it could take longer than that for new life to be found for the old AK Coke property.

For now, we celebrate the fact that the first steps toward redevelopment are under way and that the idled coke plant soon will no longer be a constant reminder of good jobs that have disappeared.