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GM: Battery plant ‘critically important’ to electric future

LORDSTOWN — “So much has changed in one year,” said General Motors spokesperson Dan Flores.

He pointed from the closing a year ago today of the GM plant that made the Chevrolet Cruze to the Thursday night meeting inviting the community to ask experts questions about the proposed $2.3 billion LG Chem and GM battery-cell plant.

The plant to be located off Tod Avenue awaits permits from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a building permit from Lordstown — but Flores said if everything pans out, groundbreaking could be as early as next month.

GM on Wednesday unveiled plans for a $20 billion investment into more than 10 all-electric vehicles. Flores said the battery plant at Lordstown is “critically important” to GM’s goal of an all-electric future.

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill said he attended GM’s Detroit “EV Day” Wednesday and found it “very interesting.”

“We’re going to probably be the sole supplier or one of the sole suppliers of batteries,” Hill said. He said he also was pleased to find out that since 2013, GM has recycled “every part” of end-of-life batteries.

More than 70 people attended Thursday’s meeting, with some coming from as far away as Columbus. Linda Sekura of Maple Heights, Sierra Club State Conservation chairwoman, said she came to Lordstown for the meeting because she thinks electric vehicles are the future.

“I really believe that we need to go all electric,” Sekura said.

Bill Stiles, GM director of manufacturing planning, said the Lordstown battery-cell plant will be as large as 31 football fields. The building is projected to be complete by spring 2022, with equipment fully moved in 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.

In a question-and-answer session, residents and members of local labor groups asked questions about potential traffic flow problems, pay for workers — it’s expected to be “competitive” — and the environmental impact of the plant.

At Monday’s Lordstown City Council meeting, Hill was concerned that the wetlands on which the plant is slated to be built are mostly man-made.

Jim Hartnett, GM environmental manager, said Thursday a survey from 2014 shows nine acres of wetlands on the 158-acre site, but after extensive logging in 2015, a 2017 survey identified 25 acres of wetlands. In 2019, that number jumped to 66 acres. The newer wetlands were created by vegetation taking root in saturated ruts left after logging, Hartnett said.

The wetlands are mostly low-quality wetlands. The government requires mitigation at different rates depending on the quality of wetlands; for the area’s 66 acres, LG Chem and GM are required to mitigate 130 acres — which they will be doing at a roughly 170-acre site in Mecca Township that is owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

That land, located on Mahan Denman Road north of state Route 88, is currently used by ODNR to grow corn to feed deer. GM’s mitigation plan will convert the full acreage — about 40 more acres than required — into forested land, ponds and open meadows, according to Hartnett.

Hartnett previously met with local environmental group Friends of the Mahoning River, which has been active in opposing a wetlands fill in Howland. The group has not made an official statement on the Lordstown project, but its president, Patricia Dunbar, said conversations with GM have been “positive.”

“We’re very pleased with the remediation they’re doing up there in Mosquito Creek,” said Dunbar, who said the planned mitigation is within the Mahoning River watershed, as required.

She said FOMR and GM also also had productive conversations regarding the retention ponds, permeable pavers, and green spaces that would make the site environmentally friendly.

The EPA hearing on wetlands and environmental issues on the property is set for 6 p.m. March 12 at Lordstown High School, with doors opening prior for residents to ask questions.

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