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GM meets with environmental group on battery plant

LORDSTOWN — An environmental group in the Mahoning Valley has met with General Motors regarding the automaker’s proposed battery-cell manufacturing plant, construction of which will harm wetlands.

“We have made people aware there is opposition to just destroying wetlands, wetlands are important here,” said Patricia Dunbar, president and board member of Friends of the Mahoning River. “That is why they reached out, that’s what we’re speculating.”

GM extended the invitation to discuss the project as it was finalizing permit applications with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act and for water quality certification with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The applications contain plans to mitigate the damage done at the Tod Avenue site in Lordstown by replacing the wetlands in northern Trumbull County.

“GM is developing this project in a responsible and sustainable manner, and we are committed to engaging with the community as we move forward,” said GM spokesman Dan Flores.

The $2.3 billion joint venture with South Korea’s LG Chem to build battery cells for electric vehicles is planned for 158 acres adjacent to the automaker’s former assembly plant in Lordstown.

Construction will disrupt 66 acres of wetlands, of which nearly 17 acres are forested and 49 acres are non-forested. GM plans to restore more than 130 acres of wetlands in the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area in the Mahoning River watershed “as the best way to replace the ecological value and function” of the lost wetlands, according to Flores.

The applications also detail how the restoration will be designed, constructed and monitored. The property sited for the mitigation in Mecca is owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“We believe our mitigation plan will create quality wetlands that will not only replace, but enhance the wetlands in the Mahoning watershed and allow those wetlands to be preserved and managed in the long term,” Flores said.

A public hearing on the permit applications is set for 6 p.m. March 12 at Lordstown High School.

The meeting in January at the Oak Hill Collaborative in Youngstown included several members of the environmental group’s board, an environmental engineer with GM and an ecologist with Arcadis, a Columbus-based firm that prepared the permit applications.

Dunbar said the group from GM, which also included someone to discuss hiring and employees, answered a variety of questions — such as, when does GM plan to start hiring, why build on a greenfield rather than use its former plant or brownfield, and about the mitigation plan.

“We told them we were not against development,” Dunbar said. “Our big thing is where the development is.”

GM considered several sites, some of which were brownfields, but decided against building on a brownfield because studies showed remediation would take many months or years, which isn’t compatible with the aggressive schedule to build the plant and get it making battery-cells.

GM wants to break ground on the site in April with completion expected by January 2022 to help meet the automaker’s goal of 20 battery-powered vehicles in production by 2023.

The facility will create more than 1,100 jobs and has been billed to be, when complete, among the largest battery-cell manufacturing facilities in the world.

rselak<\@>tribtoday.com