Groups drop effort to block Ste. Gen plant

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

STE. GENEVIEVE, Mo. -- Several environmental groups said Tuesday they have abandoned their legal bid to block construction of one of the world's largest cement plants, settling for an "imperfect compromise" they say ensures some safeguards near the Missouri site.

Ending a four-year legal challenge, Switzerland-based Holcim Inc. will provide up to $3 million for regional environmental projects. The company also will grant a conservation easement on nearly 2,000 acres over much of the proposed $600 million plant's buffer area, preventing any new development on the land for a century.

Environmentalists have argued that the project -- along the Mississippi River in northern Ste. Genevieve County -- would pollute the river, destroy wetlands and threaten the region's compliance with federal clean air standards.

In June, the state issued the last major permit necessary for the construction, which Holcim expects to begin next year. Holcim already had the required permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We and other organizations do not feel this [plant] is a good choice for the region. We never have and still don't," said Ted Heisel of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, among the four groups fighting the plant.

"We're content with the provisions of the settlement," he said. "It was time to put this fight behind us."

Holcim has said it plans an environmentally efficient plant, claiming that was borne out by the state's evaluation and approval. The deal, project manager Eric Ervin said Tuesday, "results in a stronger project and one that will lead to significant environmental benefits for this region."

"Throughout this process, we have taken steps to address the concerns some people have raised about the project," he said. "By resolving this pending litigation, we will be able to move forward more quickly, bringing this project and its benefits to the region as soon as possible."

Joining the Coalition for the Environment in the legal proceedings were the Sierra Club's Ozarks chapter, the American Bottom Conservancy and the Webster Groves Nature Study Society.

Holcim's $3 million payout is meant for environmental programs, including $1.8 million for land conservation in Missouri and Illinois. More than $900,000 will go toward air quality monitoring and energy efficiency projects.

None of that money would be paid to the four environmental groups, the groups said in a joint statement.

"Clearly, this settlement does not represent an outright victory in our four-year fight against this highly polluting facility," a statement on the Web site of Heisel's group said, calling the deal making "the best of a difficult situation."

"Sometimes an imperfect compromise is all that can achieved in our imperfect world."

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