By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - According to an email received by Del. Gary Howell on Monday, representatives for Verso Corporation say they have "exhausted" efforts to find a buyer for the shuttered Luke mill, but will continue to work toward slowing the seepage of black liquor into the Potomac.
The mill was shut down in June 2019. Two months prior to that, an angler fishing in the area reported a black substance was seeping into the river near the mill. The Maryland Department of the Environment has since been investigating the seepage, describing the substance as possibly including "contaminants from caustic and corrosive ‘pulping liquor,’ coal ash and other undiscovered sources."
According to the MDE, the pulping liquors were stored in tanks on the West Virginia side of the North Branch of the Potomac, and in November 2019 the W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection issued an order for Verso to empty the tanks.
According to Verso’s website, lukemillinfo.com, the tanks were emptied and cleaned and the company also demolished a former million-gallon liquor storage tank.
In the email to Howell Monday, which came from attorney Kurt Dettinger of Steptoe & Johnson in Charleston, it was stated, "We continue working with state regulators from Maryland and West Virginia to take immediate action to slow the seep, evaluate the source further, and determine actions to stop the seep."
Dettinger also said that Verso officials continue to support the communities impacted by the seepage and also by the closure of the mill.
"Our support of the area continues in a number of ways through additional work engaging environmental remediation specialists; relocating critical infrastructure, such as sewer lines, for the Town of Luke; and supporting the community through local United Way donations."
Such infrastructure relocation is also affecting the Town of Piedmont, which is struggling to find a new water source that does not require the raw water to be pumped across Verso property as it is now.
Dettinger suggested the public visit the www.lukemillinfo.com website for updated information related to the mill and the ongoing environmental management.
"Our goal is to work cooperatively with regulators to eliminate the potential sources of the seeped material, extract groundwater and mitigate the effects on human health and the environment," the website states. "As part of that process, we will make information related to these ongoing activities accessible to the public."