LIMA ‚?? In the late 1990s, Lima came very close to losing its refinery and the hundreds of good jobs that go with it. Just how close we came is the focus of a new book by Bluffton University History Professor Perry Bush.
Bush, speaking to the Noon Optimist Club Wednesday, outlined the events that led up to the eventual sale of the Lima refinery. His version ‚?? Kent State University Press is set to publish the book in 2012 ‚?? is full of¬† drama, unique characters and back-room machinations that build up to a rare triumph for a Rust Belt city.
‚??You have a conservative political power base. You have a conservative newspaper and you have a progressive, social justice Catholic mayor, all working together on this. It‚??s a good story,‚?Ě Bush said.
It was December 1995 when BP Oil, then owners of the Lima Refinery, announced plans to close the plant. The decision, Bush said, was more about a corporate desire to get out of the refining business than any failings on the part of the refinery. The plant had been a money-loser in the early ‚??90s, but new management and a buy-in by employees helped turn things around to the point that, by that December announcement, Lima was set as an example for BP refineries around the globe.
The company‚??s plans to close met resistance from local government leaders as well as leadership within the plant itself. Within a month, a compromise was struck and BP announced it would look for a buyer for the plant rather than sell. But it soon became obvious that wasn‚??t their true intent, Bush said.
‚??People like the mayor (Lima Mayor David Berger) began to see what was going on,‚?Ě Bush said. ‚??Berger says ‚??I‚??m not going to take this lying down.‚?? The community was outraged.‚?Ě
Early in the battle, Berger began to gather allies, Bush said. He met with then-Lima News Publisher Tom Mullen and Editor Ray Sullivan to enlist their help in a public campaign against BP. Workers at the plant fed him information about what was really going on.
In October 1996, plant officials were called to London and told to get ready to sell the plant. By that point, many in the community assumed the fight was over. Others kept fighting, Bush said.
‚??Mayor Berger was slipping information to (potential buyers) out of his personal files,‚?Ě Bush said. ‚??And the workers kept moving ahead with the improvements ‚?Ľ part of it out of this attitude that ‚??we‚??re going to show you what morons you are for killing this plant.‚??‚?Ě
The story has a happy ending. In July 1998, the company announced plans to sell the refinery to Clark for $7.9 million. About a decade later, current owner Husky Energy paid $1.9 billion for the facility.
To Bush, the story serves as an allegory for a larger battle between corporations growing in power and small communities and even states struggling to maintain some balance of power. It‚??s a classic David and Goliath story, and one in which David wins again.
‚??Part of it means that individual actions still matter,‚?Ě Bush said. ‚??It shows you don‚??t have to take it lying down. Communities can fight back.‚?Ě