Does the sale of the Stelco lands mean the end is near for the dirty coking plant on Hamilton’s waterfront?

A lease agreement filed by Stelco appears to suggest the steelmaker could demolish its dirtiest facility in Hamilton – a coal-fired coke plant – within seven years.

A summary of a five-year lease for the bay-front Coke Ovens “battery”, plus a single optional two-year extension, was filed on June 1 with the Ontario Land Registry as part of the historic sale by Stelco of 800 acres of land to Slate Asset Management.

The steelmaker’s own press release says it must “evacuate and demolish” the buildings at the end of its various leases.

But Stelco spokesman Trevor Harris said by email the steelmaker “has no plans in place” to stop making coke at the plant. He said the lease document, which is signed by officials from Stelco and its new owner, was “erroneously filed” on the publicly available land registry.

Harris did not respond to questions about how long Stelco wants to keep the aging Coke Ovens in operation, whether they could be moved or whether a longer lease is under consideration. A separate operating agreement filed with the Land Registry, however, suggests there is a possibility that the Coke Battery lease could be “modified, extended or restated” in the future.

The fate of the plant is “extremely important” to townspeople, Environment Hamilton’s Lynda Lukasik said, as its closure would signal the imminent end to more than a century of coal pollution on the Hamilton waterfront. Hamilton.

Bayfront neighbor ArcelorMittal Dofasco also uses large amounts of coal to make steel – but has already publicly pledged to stop doing so by 2028, if not sooner, as part of a “green steel” transition funded in part by taxpayers.

Stelco announced a massive sale of its mostly vacant Hamilton port land to Slate on June 1 – along with plans to lease 75 acres of land needed to continue steel finishing and fabricating operations. coke which still employ 914 people.

Stelco’s announcement specified that it was leasing the cold rolling and galvanizing operations for 35 years to start – with several 20-year renewal options. “We look forward to continuing to operate in the community we have called home for over 100 years,” Stelco CEO Alan Kestenbaum said in a statement.

But land records obtained by The Spectator show shorter proposed leases for the company’s headquarters and Stelco’s newest coking plant in Hamilton, where coal is fired at high temperatures in a battery of 83 furnaces to make coke at high carbon content used in traditional steelmaking. .

Slate also released concept art for its planned redevelopment of the Stelco grounds which did not include any visible chimneys for current coke oven operations. Over email, the developer called the render “aspirational” rather than literal and added that he didn’t have a confirmed end date for the coke-making that he could share.

Slate did not respond to specific questions about the rental agreement.

The prospect of ending coal use on the waterfront is tantalizing to anyone who breathes the air downwind of the two steelmakers, Lukasik argued.

The aging coke ovens at the two steelworks are responsible for much of the carbon emissions and pollution from carcinogenic benzene and benzo(a)pyrene in Hamilton – not to mention the occasional “black snow” fallout on homes near the industrial northeast and along the beach strip.

“The sooner these players can move away from coal in a climate emergency, the better,” Lukasik said.

The suggested deadline for the lease is “concerning” for the more than 150 unionized workers who operate the coking plant and related equipment, United Steel Workers Local 1005 President Ron Wells said.

Wells said he’s never seen the proposed lease, but he’s heard some workers worry about the concept art that appears to not include the coke oven.

“We will definitely want to get more information on site plans,” he said, noting that the union is currently in contract talks with Stelco. “We will always fight to protect the jobs of our members.

But Wells also said he believed Stelco still relied heavily on coke produced in Hamilton.

Stelco finishes steel in Hamilton, but no longer manufactures it on the city’s waterfront. Instead, Hamilton Hilton Works produces coke that is shipped to the company’s integrated plant on Lake Erie, which has undergone nearly $300 million in upgrades in recent years.

Coke is used in a Lake Erie blast furnace to make iron and then steel, some of which is then sent back to Hamilton for finishing.