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The Maryland Department of the Environment has fined Lehigh PortlandCement Co. $20,000 for air emissions violations that occurred almosta year ago.

If Lehigh does not contest the fine, the state would accept $15,000 to settle the case, the MDE said Monday.

Settling for a lesser amount is "standard practice," MDE spokesman Michael Sullivan said. If a fine is uncontested, it saves the statetime and money, he said.

David H. Roush, manager of the Lehigh plant in Union Bridge, said, "It's much too early for us to know what we're going to do about that."

Roush said the $20,000 fine, which the state proposed last April, should have been lowered because the company began correcting the emissions problem before the state levied the fine.

"We think we acted promptly and responsively," he said. "Maximum fines are for people who do otherwise."

Kent H. Doxzon, amember of the citizens group Residents for a Healthier Union Bridge Area said, "Obviously, we're glad MDE is sticking by what they found with Lehigh's violation.

"If you break the law, you know what the consequences are and should expect to live with them," he said.

MDE cited Lehigh for illegal emissions on 21 days from Feb. 21 through March 24.

The emissions were ground limestone, shale and sand usedin the process of making cement, a plant official said at the time.

After the state proposed the fine, MDE officials met with Lehigh officials before deciding whether to levy the fine.

In a statement issued Monday, MDE Secretary Robert Persciasepe said, "MDE strives toenforce environmental regulations in a way that protects the environment and Maryland citizens while dealing fairly with the regulated community.

"This penalty is based on a sound review of the facts in the case," he said.

The emissions occurred because the dust collector -- called a precipitator -- on the No. 4 kiln malfunctioned, Roush said. The company reported the emissions to the state as it is required to do and began plans to repair the equipment before the state levied the fine, he said.

"We got right on it. We recognized the problem," Roush said.

Lehigh made improvements to the precipitator in August that cost $500,000 to $600,000, he said.

In September, tests done by Roy F. Weston Inc., a testing company from West Chester, Pa., to determine particulate emissions found that Lehigh was below the 0.03 grain per dry standard cubic foot limit allowed by MDE.

MDE currently is reviewing a report Lehigh submitted on preventing emissions violations if the precipitator malfunctions or is down for maintainance, Sullivan said.

After the state completes its review of the 15-page report, Roush said Lehigh officials will decide whether topursue an appeal of MDE's decision not to allow the company to burn a carbon waste.

The state denied Lehigh permission to burn the waste as fuel partly because of the company's history of violating air emissions standards.

Last month, MDE dropped a proposed $2,000 fineagainst Lehigh for accepting some waste oil with high lead levels.

The $20,000 penalty was the largest the state had proposed against Lehigh and the only one for illegal emissions.

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