Written by Ella Abbott and Ray Padilla
Two and a half hours southeast of Kent, we found ourselves in Steubenville, Ohio — one of two stops to really understand what it’s like to live near a coal fired power plant.
It was a warm and sunny Saturday in September. We both had never ventured down to the Jefferson County area. Our expectations of how it might look and feel were different than the reality we witnessed. We assumed the air would be thick and there would be an unavoidable smell traveling down the river from the W. H. Sammis Power Plant in Stratton, Ohio — just a few miles north.
During our visit in Steubenville, we interviewed the mayor, Jerry Barilla to comprehend the effects the community members in both locations would expect once the First Energy power plant closes its doors.
To our surprise, he wasn’t immediately thinking about the benefits of closing a power plant, like the reduction of air pollution in the county. Rather, he looked at the jobs that will be lost and the financial struggle the community might face later.
“It’s sad to see any industry shut down because our city was involved in the steel industry,” Barilla said. “And we had two major steel plants here. They both (provided) 14 thousand employment (opportunities) for each plant.”
For the people living in Steubenville, it was normal to live in a high polluted area, because it brought in jobs.
Jerry Barilla, mayor of Steubenville, talks about how the city functioned while the coal mine was still active from Ella Abbott on Vimeo.
To understand the feeling of gratefulness towards the plant, it’s important to understand the way it’s helped the cities around it. Not being from one of these towns, it might be easy to see these closures as a positive because, environmentally, it is. But for members in communities like Stratton and Steubenville, the effects could be devastating.
In order to try and better understand, we decided to drive the twenty minutes from Steubenville to Stratton village. The plant is settled on a large plot of land sitting right up against the village near the municipal building, fire station and a playground. Driving South past Stratton, you drive through a tunnel that runs under a small portion of the plant.
Stratton village is small, home for more than 270 people according to the United State Census Bureau in 2016.
We parked the car near the edge of the city, next to the border of the plant. As we walked through the streets, we met Chief of Police Mike Wilson and Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla. Both of them do not wish to see the W. H. Sammis Power Plant close. Wilson believes the plant will find a way to sustain itself and continue to provide jobs. Abdalla said it will be devastating when the power plant closes.
Barilla mentioned understanding that the plants closing is good for the environment, but he still couldn’t categorize it as a good thing himself. For people in cities like Stratton and Steubenville, plants and factories are a part of the town, the same as any resident or historic building. When they close, it shifts things for the residents and it can be hard to see it positively.
Wilson and Abdalla both echoed a sense of disbelief that the plant will actually close, but if it does, it could fundamentally change the village of Stratton.