Cement plant project gets water quality certification

Friday, December 13, 2002

By Jim Obert

Business Today

JEFFERSON CITY - The state Department of Natural Resources has granted a 401 Water Quality Certification to the Swiss company that wants to build the nation's largest cement plant in northeast Ste. Genevieve County.

Holcim Inc. wants to build the plant near the Mississippi River. It would mine limestone for about 100 years, eventually creating a 1,300-acre quarry.

Holcim officials have said the quarry would gradually be reclaimed so that no more than 200 acres would be actively mined at any one time.

A public hearing on the water quality issue was held last June concerning Holcim's application for the certification. More than 200 people turned out and more than 50 of them testified for and against the project.

Holcim proposes to construct a cement kiln, quarry operation, access road, railroad spur and a slack water harbor and fleeting area.

This is the second time the DNR has issued a water quality certification for the Lee Island Project. The state pulled the certification last year after environmental organizations argued the matter had not been brought before a public hearing.

Ken Fields, a spokesman for Holcim, said the company has always maintained that the project would not adversely affect the waters of the state. He said Holcim was reviewing the conditions the DNR attached to the certification.

Holcim plans to build a $600 million cement plant that will create 1,000 construction jobs and 200 full-time jobs with a $10 million annual payroll.

Several years ago, the company announced its plans to build the cement plant at Lee Island in northeast Ste. Genevieve County. Company officials began the process of applying for permits.

Mike Mullin, director of government affairs and communications for Holcin, said once the permitting process is complete it would take about 30 months to build the plant.

Mullin said there is organized opposition to the plan, and groups continue to contest the issuance of permits. He said the company is prepared for a protracted permitting process.

"We are trying to bring balance between economic and environmental issues," said Mullin. "This project epitomizes our commitment to that."

Mullin said that once the project gets started there will be an economic jump that will be important to the area that will include several hundred spin-off jobs.

Holcin bought 3,900 acres, and about 2,200 acres will be left in a natural state to serve as a buffer zone, according to Mullin. He said about 200 acres would be quarried at any time, and ongoing land reclamation will return mined areas to a near natural state.

Mullin said years of research went into selecting the site. He said the high-quality limestone there will result in a clean manufacturing process and emissions from the facility will comply with air quality standards applicable to both the Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis areas.

Also, the site has easy access to the Mississippi River, making it possible to transport 80 percent of the product on the waterways, which is reportedly the most environmentally efficient means.

Mullin said the Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing all the studies the company has produced for them. Holcin would need to build a harbor at the site.

Mullin said the plant, which would produce about 4 million tons of limestone annually, will have high-tech emission-control technology. He said all raw materials, finished product and fuel will be under cover. There will be no "fugitive" dust.

"When you build something like this, you have to think long-term environmental," said Mullin. "But we can't do anything without the permits."

Mullin said the company is talking to environmental groups, labor unions, business organizations and community groups, as well as state and federal agencies.

"We are committed to the project ... we're in it for the long-term," said Mullin. "This is about economic growth for the region and minimizing environmental impact. We expect the permits to happen."

Holcim still needs permits relating to air emissions, mining and storm-water runoff.

A 2 1/2-mile access road from Highway 61 has been built to the site.

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