WARREN - Employees are back to work at Patriot Water Treatment today, thanks to a ruling Tuesday by the Environmental Review Appeals Commission that says the Ohio EPA was wrong.
Patriot owner Andrew Blocksom spent part of the Independence Day holiday Wednesday calling his employees back to work.
"What a wonderful celebration of what this country is supposed to be about and what a great present for the Fourth to be able to call people and tell them to come back to work," Blocksom said Wednesday.
"Just having the support we got from so many people, it meant the world, because you think you're crazy, like, 'This is America; it shouldn't be like this' and we're thrilled that justice prevailed and Ohioans can go back to work."
Blocksom said two of the 10 employees found new employment already, but he expects eight to return.
The Columbus-based Environmental Review Appeals Commission on Tuesday issued a decision that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's action banning the City of Warren from accepting waters from Patriot was unlawful.
Production at Patriot Water has been idled since April 1, and the company laid off most of its 25 employees on April 14 after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued new permits to Warren's Water Pollution Control Department that included the ban on accepting brine water treated at Patriot.
The water, which is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling, was Patriot's sole product and the reason the Warren company opened.
Blocksom said he kept 15 employees working since then to keep the facility clean and prepared for reopening.
"We always assumed we would prevail, we just didn't know how long it was gonna take," he said.
The ruling found essentially that Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Nally had no jurisdiction to issue the permit that included the ban against accepting Patriot's treated brine. That ban was identified as "Section BB."
"Here the commission finds that no valid factual foundation exists to establish the correlation between the restriction imposed by Section BB and the goal of reducing TDS (total dissolved solids) or protecting water quality. Instead, the evidence established that Section BB was included for the primary purpose of ensuring compliance with R.C. 1509.22, a statute outside of Chapter 6111 and over which the director has no jurisdiction."
ERAC's ruling negates the stipulation, so that term was removed from the permit. That means OEPA must accept Patriot's right to do business.
Spokesmen for the OEPA could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In March, when the agency issued the renewal permit with the ban against brine, it continued to maintain that the original permits were illegally issued by them based on an incorrect understanding. The new permit sought to correct what they claimed was an error.
Spokesman Mike Settles said then that the permit issued to the city plant did not place a limit on the amount of total dissolved solids other than brine. ''This permit will allow them to attract new businesses. Warren should be able to bring in and process waters from other industries, he said.
A ruling by the Environmental Review Appeals Commission in late March said that the commission would not uphold Patriot's request to block the renewal with the ban.
Patriot and Warren also sought injunctive relief from Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew Logan. On March 14, Logan denied a request for temporary restraining order against the issuance of a renewal permit.
Later, OEPA issued the permit over that weekend, set with an effective date of April 1.
Warren and Patriot filed multiple motions between ERAC and Logan's office. An earlier ruling by ERAC in March stated that Nally did not have legal standing to declare the original permits illegal, which has been OEPA's contention since November of 2011.
The later ruling, however, came as a harsh blow and forced Patriot to hold out for the possibility of a court order that would allow them to remain in business. OEPA and their co-defendant Ohio Department of Natural Resources along with co-plaintiffs Patriot and Warren offered their respective arguments to Logan's court regarding subject jurisdiction.
But just as Patriot's local attorney Martin White was filing another temporary restraining order request, Logan issued his ruling that his court had no subject jurisdiction, referring the case back to ERAC.
An April hearing before ERAC in Columbus lasted for three days, during which both parties presented their arguments. They have since awaited ERAC's decision.
The decision means Patriot cannot have its permit revoked, and their attorney, April Bott of Bott Law Group in Dublin, said she was pleased by the result.
"From our perspective, we are pleased the commission took the time to hear the evidence and to evaluate both the evidence and the law and come to what we consider a very well-reasoned opinion," she said. "It's clear to me that they were very attentive during trial and listened and weighed the credibility of the witnesses."
But Bott said the fact that the case went as far as it did is disheartening to her.
"When I look at the totality of the situation I am extremely disappointed in the system, and by system I mean the regulating agency's decisions. I am so disappointed that this case had to be tried in a court, but I'm glad the court recognized that business owners have a right to rely on permits that can't be taken away for unlawful reasons."
Blocksom said he intends to maintain an open dialogue with the OEPA going forward and only wants his business to be treated like any other. He said plans to shift his focus toward expanding and improving the young business.