Community members and leaders urge DEC to move project ahead
27 people on Thursday, Jan. 20, provided the state Department of Environmental Conservation with comments about a proposed modernization of the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena, the overwhelming majority of which were positive.
That was a change for the cement maker, which has been the subject of several recent public meetings on the health impact of the plant on the surrounding community. On Thursday night, even the most outspoken of Lafarge’s critics voiced their general support for the massive overhaul, which the company promises would reduce emissions and increase efficiency.
We have been waiting for this evening for years, said Susan Falzon, director of the Friends of Hudson advocacy group. `We are generally supportive of the idea of the modernization.`
Falzon and others still raised concerns about the plan, including a provision that would require air quality monitoring at the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School ` across the street from the plan ` for one year. Falzon and others said that monitoring should continue for longer.
Questions about dealing with dust emanating from the plant were also raised, with some saying an effort should be made to better insulate conveyor belts that carry limestone and cement through the community.
`The question is not whether or not to modernize, the question is whether the plans submitted by Lafarge are truly state of the art,` said Elyse Kunz, of the local Community Advocates for Safe Emissions group. `We have got to get it right.`
CASE, Friends of Hudson and the Scenic Hudson groups said they’re conducting a detailed review of the lengthy environmental impact statement, and would providing more detailed written comments.
Approval of the document would be a major regulatory milestone for the project.
Lafarge has long been working towards approval of the overhaul, which would replace the `wet kiln` now used with a `dry kiln` process. The company has said this would use significantly less energy and limestone (the raw material used in the cement-making process). Some of the plant’s emissions would also be reduced, including the output of mercury.
The company would like to start construction this year and finish up in 2014. The $400 million project would create 800 construction jobs, Lafarge said.
Those benefits economic benefits were the focus of a slew of politicians and business leaders who provided comments Thursday.
Michael Tucker, president of the Center for Economic Growth, was one of many speakers who noted Lafarge doesn’t have to build in Ravena, and argued the plant would be `in jeopardy` without the modernization.
`We do live in a global economy and we are subjected to global competition,` he said.
Others said it would be folly to turn away private investment, especially at this time.
`Unlike many projects of this size, it’s not dependent on a significant investment from the state to go forward,` said Ken Polasky of the Business Council of New York. `It’s important that job retention receives as much attention as job creation.`
Other notable figures speaking at the event or issuing statements through a representative (all supportive of the project) were Congressman Paul Tonko, Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, Coeymans Councilman Thomas Boehm, Vice President of the Albany Chamber of Commerce Diana Ehrlich, Ravena Mayor John Bruno and Ravena Councilman Bruce Roberts.
Plant employees and citizens of Ravena also spoke, largely in support of the modernization. Mary Dristoll, a 45-year resident of Ravena, said the Lafarge plant has been vital to the community’s economic health for many years.
`Our community has the opportunity to become a ghost town or the home of the most modern cement plant in the United States,` she said.
The public comment period on the modernization environmental statement will remain open until Feb. 22, though Thursday’s meeting was the last public hearing. Written comments may be faxed to 357-2460 or emailed to [email protected]“