USA: Newberry city officials deliberated for hours Monday about the proposed expansion of Florida Rock Industries’ cement plant, with experts for the company arguing for approval and some residents pleading for denial. The city was to decide late Monday night whether the company would be allowed to double the capacity of the plant, marking the final step in an approval process that has lasted about a year. Discussion during the first half of the public hearing Monday night focused on air quality monitoring and noise levels, with Florida Rock experts answering a barrage of questions from commissioners about both issues.
Commissioners on Monday focused their questioning on the monitoring process, asking Florida Rock officials whether they would use new technology to reduce emissions recommended by city consultants, support the city starting its own air-monitoring program and address other air issues. Commissioner Joe Hoffman asked John Koogler, an environmental expert testifying for Florida Rock, to explain why three years ago the Alachua County Environmental Protection Agency discovered two possible pollutants in the air near the plant.
County measurements taken a few years ago showed elevated levels of 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene, a potential irritant to eyes and lungs and hexachlorobutadiene, a suspected carcinogen. The county’s air monitoring program was dismantled due to lack of funding in 2003. Koogler said the source was never identified, but said Florida Rock follow-up testing showed that the pollutants couldn’t possibly have come from the plant.
Commissioners also asked Florida Rock officials how they would address noise concerns. Commissioner Lois Forte said this was among her chief concerns. "I understand what people are saying about the noise level," Forte said. "When I was closer to the plant, the noise at night used to be terrible. You’d try to sleep at night, and just couldn’t."
Mayor John Glanzer, who voted at the plan board to approve the plant with conditions but does not vote on the City Commission, asked whether the company planned to follow up on noise-abatement conditions he had suggested for the plant. "We’re looking for a commitment to new technology from Florida Rock," Glanzer said. "We’re not asking you to change out perfectly good equipment, but as things change technology-wise, we’d hope you would consider those changes."
"We will make the commitment do everything economically possible to avoid having the impact on our neighbors being more significant than it is today," said Gary Sauer, president of Florida Rock Industries cement group.