Cemex vows to fight Colorado county's move to terminate right to operate a cement plant

Cemex vows to fight Colorado county's move to terminate right to operate a cement plant

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As the Cemex Corporation vows to fight Boulder County's move to terminate its right to operate a cement plant near Lyons, people who live in the area are mulling over the situation and what could be ahead. 

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"I would be fine advocating for the plant to stay here if they were responsible and they had good reporting and they had good monitoring," said Eben Grace, who lives nearby.

In a consent decree with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in late April, Cemex will pay $1.392 million and make improvements. That follows over $300,000 in fines in the fall of 2023. 

"The division takes emissions violations and enforcement seriously. The division's enforcement actions for Cemex aim to reduce air pollution in the area and will benefit local Colorado communities through increased funding for environmental justice grants," said Leah Schleifer, of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division.

"Who's benefiting in this situation? Of course, the people that work there, but the great benefactor in this situation is a multi-national corporation. That's able to pollute here egregiously, can afford to pay the fines," said Grace.

Cemex has submitted a response that challenges what it calls, the "erroneous termination of our nonconforming use status." The plant has about 100 workers. "Many happen to be Latino," and many are union members said Maryssa Silva, external communications manager for Cemex in an email. They are part of the Union of Operating Engineers Local 9.

"Local 9 has pledged to support efforts to keep the plant open and save these jobs," she wrote.

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The shutdown was ordered in April by Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting Director Dale Case, who sent a letter terminating the company's right to operate the plant, which has been running there for 55 years.

"A traffic study has determined that increased traffic at the plant has created a hazard, which improperly expanded the use of the cement plant," said Boulder County in a statement.

That study was done by Cemex in response to a CDOT inquiry. Cemex now claims the study was a misrepresentation of truck traffic and has asked for a 60 day extension to conduct a new study. The traffic increased in 2022 after the closing of a quarry near the plant that the county pushed for.

"I think we need to talk about it," said life-long Lyons resident Jerry Tabor, about the consequences of the plant shutting down.

Tabor leads the local Lions Club and credits the company's help in keeping community-beneficial projects going.

"It's very important having that kind of people that sponsor you and help you get this done. I guess my part of it, I hate to see that go away," he said. "Maybe people don't realize how bad we might suffer if that does go away."

He realizes there is more truck traffic and is concerned about the pollution as well.

"I know they've got trouble with the polluting and stuff, like I said when you grind rock and stuff and do all that stuff, you're going to have some pollution."

Others are more strident. Local resident Larry Webster said he believed some who want the plant closed would be "anti-cement," no matter what.

"I don't think trying to shut a business down like that is necessarily good. I do think they could do a better job of maintaining dust control," he said.

But there have been offers of compromise, says Sarah Lorang of the Cemex opposition group Good Neighbors of Lyons. In a statement she wrote, "CEMEX equates this termination to a 'taking' because they offered a deal for 15 more years of mining in exchange for the voluntary closure of the plant, which the county did not accept. Good Neighbors of Lyons and the Town of Lyons advocated for a more balanced 5-year extension with a compromise that would have allowed all stakeholders in the community to benefit. Unfortunately, CEMEX chose not to engage or entertain a compromise. It is disingenuous to suggest that the community, and by extension, Boulder County, has not tried to negotiate solutions that consider both environmental safety and job security for CEMEX employees." 

The termination of rights, now challenged, is likely to end up being decided by Boulder County Commissioners.

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