Ste. Genevieve County cement plant's construction on schedule

Thursday, June 12, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Work proceeded on the pan conveyor Wednesday, June 11, 2008, at the Halcim Plant in Ste. Genevieve.The conveyor will take clinker to the two silos in the background that can hold 180,000 tons of clinker, once the Halcim Plant is up and going next summer.

BLOOMSDALE, Mo. — Construction of the nation's largest cement plant in Ste. Genevieve County is on track for its scheduled completion next year, its plant manager said Thursday. However, even as one-third of the plant has been finished, company officials are worried about the cost of electricity and what may happen if the company cannot switch from Citizens Electric Cooperative to Ameren.

"We hope to be here for a long time," plant manager Jeff Ouhl told members of the media Thursday during a tour of the Holcim plant. "Our company hopes to be good citizens in this community."

Scheduled to open in 2009, Holcim's $1 billion facility will employ 250 workers and produce about 4 million metric tons of cement each year. It will become the second Holcim plant in Missouri. The other facility is in Pike County.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Construction workers parked among unfinished conveyor belts and a dome limestone holding facility, rear, at the Holcim Plant Wednesday, June 11, 2008, in Ste. Genevieve. The plant is roughly one-third compete and on scheduled to begin production next summer.

Holcim officials said that in addition to the creation of full-time jobs with an annual payroll of more than $10 million, taxes generated in Ste. Genevieve will total $25 million over 10 years.

"This plant has been and will, hopefully, continue to be a huge economic asset in the region," Ouhl said. "It has already created thousands of construction jobs over the course of the construction, and we are now hiring our plant staff as we move forward to operation."

Once finished, the plant will boast a harbor and fleeting facility on the Mississippi River and the largest silos in the world. Terminal area manager Mike Brewer said the harbor will be able to serve up to 25 barges at one time.

The two silos will hold 180,000 tons of powder cement, called clinker. Brewer said up to 18,000 tons of clinker can be shipped per barge.

As of June 1, the company has hired 80 percent of its management, supervisory and engineering jobs and 30 percent of its technicians. The hiring pace is 15 to 20 people each month through the end of the year. Most employees have been hired within a 40-mile radius of the plant.

Pay for five categories of technical positions ranges from $18 an hour to $26 an hour.

Once hired, employees undergo 24 hours of safety training before working in the plant. As of Wednesday, employees have worked 215 days without a major accident.

"I believe there isn't an accident that isn't preventable," Ouhl said, adding, "I'd rather people not work here than have to tell their families that they were killed in an accident at our plant."

A 10-year contract

Power is one-third of the company's total operating cost. Citizens Electric serves Holcim, though plant officials said in a news release they would be better served by Ameren. Citizens' rate is nearly double what Holcim would pay as an Ameren customer.

However, because of territory service laws, Holcim cannot get power from Ameren.

Holcim officials said they have presented a "substantial financial" offer to allow the company to become an Ameren customer but said Citizens refused. Holcim officials said if the plant "cannot resolve the situation and ensure its competitiveness in the state, that future construction work and investments are at risk."

Barbara Casper, manager of member services for Citizens, said Holcim has known since 1999 its plant would be within the power company's territory. She said her company has worked closely with Holcim to contract for and construct necessary facilities to serve Holcim, such as a multimillion-dollar breaker station at the plant.

Citizens negotiated a 10-year contract with Holcim that was signed Dec. 1, 2006. Since then, wholesale market power prices have risen significantly. Casper said Citizens has encouraged Holcim to buy future power at a set price but that the company has yet to do so.

"If Holcim is allowed to exit Citizens' certificated service territory, other existing industrial customers could potentially leave CEC and would cause Citizens' other members to have increased rates," Casper said. "We truly desire to and will continue to work with Holcim in developing a power supply portfolio to hedge against rising electricity prices."

Last year, Holcim sought legislation to allow the company to change power providers. However, the legislation never came to fruition. Ouhl said a committee is studying the matter again this summer.

Delayed by lawsuits

Construction of the plant has not come without opposition.

While the plant was officially proposed in 2000, a series of environmental lawsuits delayed the groundbreaking ceremony until March 24, 2006. In October 2005, Holcim agreed to a $3 million settlement with the groups, with the money going to regional environmental efforts. Holcim officials also agreed to use more than 2,000 acres of the 3,900-acre project as a conservation buffer area. That prevents new developments on the land for 100 years.

Additionally, Holcim has restored 61 acres of wetlands on the property.

bblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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