USA: fight over ABQ cement plant comes to a head

USA: fight over ABQ cement plant comes to a head
Published: 24 June 2009

Tonight the city of Albuquerque has scheduled a public information hearing to hear concerns about whether a North Valley cement company should be allowed to expand its hours of operation to 24 hours a day.

Residents of the neighborhood surrounding the American Cement plant complain that cement dust from the plant covers their trees and yards, and clogs their swamp cooler pads, and they have been protesting the permit since it was first submitted over a year ago. But representatives for Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua say they’ve made significant improvements since buying the plant last year, and now they’re trying to be good neighbors.

The facility is a transfer plant, where cement is unloaded from rail cars and loaded into trucks. Inevitably, some of that powdery mixture gets released into the air, and the trucks that roll in and out of the plant kick up dust. One frustrated resident even used his video camera to film what he said was cement dust billowing from a silo last summer.

The company wants to expand its hours in order to be more competitive, said GCC environmental consultant Doug Roark. Although the permit would allow it to operate 24 hours a day, the company has no plans to run continuously, he said, and isn’t staffed to run all day every day.

“We just want to put that [new permit] in place and show that even if anything ran all the time we would still meet our air quality [requirements] and then when a contract came up that we wanted to bid on, we could do it. Right now we’re at a competitive disadvantage because we can’t bid on those jobs,” Roark said.

The permit request was originally submitted in March 2008, but GCC withdrew the permit after it bought the plant, saying it needed some time to do a voluntary audit of the plant. Based on the results of that audit, several changes were made, Roark said.

“We recognize that there were issues with the previous owners and we wanted to identify any shortcomings of the previous owners, but we have a different approach. Dust is the biggest problem on a site like this. Now we have the best dust control systems you can get and because of that, those emissions are very low. The larger impact, compared to the silos, was the roads and the facilities have been completely paved and we’ve purchased a street sweeping unit that runs multiple times per week and removes any dust,” he explained.

Roark said GCC has not had any air quality violations since taking over.

This spring, convinced it had made enough progress on cleaning up the site, the company resubmitted its application. But the neighbours organised again in opposition.

It’s an environmental justice issue, said Kyle Silfer, president of the Greater Gardner Neighbourhood Association, which abuts the plant. In May, he wrote to the City of Albuquerque Air Quality Division requesting a public hearing on the plant’s permit request and explaining why neighbours feel they’re already over-burdened by industry.