State hears concerns, praise about expansion of Lehigh cement plant; Union members worry about security of jobs


Political leaders and union workers shared their views at a public hearing last night on the proposed expansion of Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Union Bridge.

About 60 people attended the Maryland Department of the Environment hearing at the Union Bridge Community Center. The department has given tentative approval for three air quality permits for the plant, but a series of public hearings are required before the permits are issued.

Most of the questions at the hearing came from union members concerned about their jobs.

Plant manager David H. Roush said the facility will be renovated and expanded and production doubled to 1.9 metric tons of cement a year. But, he said, the new equipment will be largely automated and require fewer workers.

In response to a question from David Buffington, president of Local 10031 of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union, Roush said no workers would be laid off. But he acknowledged that some temporary employees would be let go.

Roush said he could not estimate how many jobs would be lost.

Local officials, including state Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll County's legislative delegation; County Commissioner Donald I. Dell; New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., and Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones spoke in favor of expansion.

"I'm very excited about this project," Jones said. "This company is spending its own money to make this community safer and cleaner, and they're not getting the credit they deserve."

The new plant is expected to emit less nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, or dust, but sulfur dioxide emissions will increase.

Also, carbon monoxide emissions will increase from 232 tons a year to more than 4,400 tons a year.

George Beerli, permit manager for the Department of the Environment, said the increase in carbon monoxide -- an odorless and colorless gas that can weaken contractions of the heart -- "does not create any air quality or any environmental impacts."

Once the company receives its state permits, possibly in April, it will apply for county permits, including those related to building, wetlands, reforestation and grading. Construction is expected to begin in June.

"Generally, everyone wants to know you have the other permits already issued," Roush said.

In November, the county commissioners approved state plans to issue $125 million in industrial revenue bonds for the $260 million expansion.

The renovation, the first since the plant opened in 1910, is to replace four rotary kilns with one kiln. Also planned are new grinding mills and buildings where raw material is blended and stored.

Lehigh, based in Allentown, Pa., is a subsidiary of Heidelberger Zement AG of Germany. Its cement has been used in such projects as the Ravens' stadium, Oriole Park and the Bay Bridge.

Pub Date: 2/12/99

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