We Energies sued over plans for Solvay Coke site

Former Solvay Coke plant

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:52 pm

One of the other companies responsible for the clean-up of the Solvay Coke site in Milwaukee’s Inner Harbor is suing We Energies, alleging the power company’s plan is “imprudent and is in excess of more cost-effective and reasonable remedial options.”

Former Solvay Coke plant

Wisconsin Gas LLC, a predecessor company to WEC Energy Group Inc., bought the 46-acre property at 311 E. Greenfield Ave. out of bankruptcy last year. The company hasn’t disclosed specific plans for how the property will be redeveloped.

We Energies, along with East Greenfield Investors LLC, American Natural Resources Co., Cliffs Mining Co. and Maxus Energy Corp., were all deemed as potentially responsible parties for environmental contamination at the site.

Ohio-based Cliffs Mining is now suing We Energies, alleging the company has broken a 2007 agreement that called for the responsible parties to work together to respond to Environmental Protection Agency claims regarding the site and to share certain costs.

“We believe we’re taking all the appropriate steps to insure that the Solvay Coke site is properly restored, and we look forward to productive discussions with Cleveland Cliffs,” Amy Jahns, a We Energies spokeswoman, said in an email when asked about the lawsuit.

Cliffs owned the property before selling it in 2003 to an investor group that planned to build a $1.5 billion, mixed-use complex on the site that was to include 14 20-story towers. Those plans never moved forward and the group behind the plan ultimately filed for bankruptcy.

The responsible parties group agreed to have the EPA complete a remedial investigation report to provide a precise overview of environmental problems at the site. The report was completed in 2016 and the companies are now preparing a feasibility study to compare different cleanup options. The study is expected to be done this summer, according to the EPA.

Cliffs alleges We Energies unilaterally entered into a second agreement with the EPA “that goes beyond razing the buildings, and that includes remediating the site.” According to the EPA, the engineering evaluation and cost analysis We Energies is developing under the second agreement will create a plan to clean up certain contaminated soil on the site.

The second agreement “undermines EPA’s commitments with Cliffs,” the complaint says. Cliffs estimates the We Energies approach will increase remediation costs for the site by $20 million, potentially increasing expenses for the other responsible parties.

“Cliffs believes that We Energies proposal to implement a remedy more costly than alternate remedies available … is motivated by its desire to quickly redevelop the site, from which We Energies is acting independently of the (potentially responsible parties) group for self-serving interests to satisfy its commercial aspirations for profit at the expense of the PRP group and its ratepayers,” the complaint says.

Cliffs also says the responsible parties agreed to conduct votes on decisions that could impose financial or other responsibilities. According to the complaint, We Energies allegedly breached the agreement by not conducting votes on its purchase of the site or the second agreement with the EPA.

The complaint also alleges Cliffs will no longer be able to meet its responsibilities under the first agreement with the EPA “such that a substantial portion of costs incurred by Cliffs … have been wasted.”

Cliffs is seeking a declaratory judgment that We Energies breached the agreement between the responsible parties along with a money judgement.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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