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Ohio town struggles to come back to life after coal plant closure
Ohio town recovering after coal power plant closures
FOX News correspondent Mark Meredith has the latest from Manchester, Ohio on ‘Special Report’
Joel Hanson knew that he was going to lose his job at Dayton Power & Light's Stuart Station, a coal-fired power plant on the banks of the Ohio River, that sits between Manchester and Aberdeen, Ohio. It wasn't a secret. The company had announced the planned closure in March 2017 after asking the state's Public Utilities Commission if they could raise electricity prices to keep the plants open. That ask had triggered negotiations with various state parties, including environmental groups, and eventually terms were agreed upon that required the closure of Hanson's plant and a neighboring one only 20 minutes down the Ohio River Scenic Byway.
When the plants finally closed in June 2018, Hanson had worked there for 11 years. The closure forced other laid-off workers to leave the rural area, due to lack of other job opportunities, as the town of Manchester is nearly 90 minutes from Cincinnati, the closest major city. Hanson chose to take the opportunity to go to school for two years and collect unemployment through a state program.
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"I'm staying here regardless if I have to drive an hour or two to go work somewhere. This is my home," Hanson said. "But the more and more I did school work and looked at jobs away from here or online jobs that weren't oriented here, the more I saw that I need to stay here, that I need this community in this place, and I think it needs me."
Manchester is a small village in Ohio's rolling hills of Appalachia. The downtown streets, just a block away from the Ohio River, still have storefronts, an indicator of a past where businesses were prevalent in the community that once was a busy river port and even a stop along the Underground Railroad for slaves who crossed into Ohio from Kentucky.
Although the town had been home to many different types of industry over the years, the Dayton Power & Light Company's two plants – on either side of Manchester – started generating power in the 1970s and 1980s. The area's biggest employer, the plants were deemed to "not be economically viable beyond mid-2018." A study done by Ohio University found that the plant closure resulted in the loss of 1,131 jobs and a loss of $700 million to the area in economic output.
"We were to the point where we needed to add classrooms and we were out of room," Manchester's mayor, Teresa Blythe, said of her town's school prior to the plant closure. Manchester's schools were 100 percent funded by the power plants. "Now, we have empty classrooms because we've had to let teachers go, lost the funding, and the kids aren't there."