(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A historic agreement between two longstanding organizations could decide the next steps for a vacant Erie property.
The Erie Western Pennsylvania Port Authority and the Erie County Redevelopment Authority held a joint, public meeting on Oct. 6 where they discussed the possibility of acquiring and an environmental clean-up of the Erie Coke Corporation property — which is located at the foot of East Ave.
“We asked ourselves both authorities what are the options? We came to the conclusion that we really needed to step up together to address this on behalf of the community,” said Jeffrey Brinling, chairperson of the Erie Western PA Port Authority.
At the meeting, both groups agreed upon a Project Cooperation Agreement. According to a release, the agreement entails that if interests align for both authorities, they would decide to condemn and acquire the property. If condemned, an environmental assessment and clean-up will be underway; then, the authorities will seek input from local government officials and the public on future uses for the property.
Tina Mengine, CEO of the Redevelopment Authority, says they have received positive feedback on their plans.
“They all understand the importance of the site to the community, to the neighborhood and they’re all 100% behind us which is incredibly important,” said Mengine.
A public comment period has been created through November 10, 2023, for interested parties to give their voice and feedback on the possible acquisition.
Additionally, another public meeting was scheduled for Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at East Middle School, 1001 Atkins Street in Erie.
After a future meeting scheduled for sometime after Oct. 23 and the public comment period ends, the Port Authority will ultimately come to a decision on whether or not to move forward with the decision.
“This is a very large site in a waterfront location critical to Erie’s future, but its existing heavily contaminated condition needs to be addressed first and foremost, so we are proceeding with a collective goal of determining a pathway forward that reflects the gravity of the challenge,” Brinling added.
The Erie Coke site is about 194 acres in total with 50% being submerged under water. The site was first used for industrial purposes before turning into an industrial coke production facility from about 1925 to 2019. Coke is produced by baking coal at extremely high heat. The resulting product, coke, is then used as fuel in blast furnaces to smelt iron ore at steel mills.
The release states the site has a history of environmental law violations, with the site ceasing operations in December 2019. The PADEP and USEPA have both motioned multiple enforcement actions against the company in the past.
“They have high levels of cancer amongst the residents who lived in that area. We’re welcoming the state, the senators and our state representatives. We’re welcoming the federal government to come here to clean up this monstrosity,” said Erie County Councilman Andre Horton.
Recently, in November 2022, the federal government indicted Erie Coke on criminal violations of federal environmental laws. Erie Coke pleaded not guilty to those charges and awaits trial.
And the public has also voiced their disapproval about the vacant property. The activist group “Hold Erie Coke Accountable” has also formed to voice concerns over the former Erie Coke site and look for public input on the future of the property and plans for the cleanup.
Although it’s in the early stages, both authorities agree that it will take years or even decades to complete.
“It is the last big piece of property on Erie’s waterfront. Years and years ahead, we’ll have a real opportunity to make something really special to the community itself,” said Brinling.
To learn more about the partnership and their plans for the Erie Coke property, head to the Port Authority’s website.