A transfer station in the North Valley may see a lot more cement roll through its doors. That prospect has many area dwellers breathing heavy because of what the increase would put in the air.
Residents' concern stems from a permit American Cement, the owner of the station, submitted to the city. If approved, the permit would let the company emit three times more total suspended particulates—essentially cement dust—into the neighborhood. The permit would also allow the facility to stay open for 20 hours a day, six days a week. The transfer station is visible from La Luz Elementary at 225 Griegos, which is just a couple blocks away. American Cement doesn’t produce cement. It only transports and stores the product. The increase in particulates would result from a greater amount of cement being brought in and out of the facility.
At a public information meeting, North Valley residents, especially those living near the station at 4702 Carlton NW, voiced concerns about what approval of the permit would mean for the community. A few who spoke said even as things stand, the cement particles released into the air adversely affect their health, ruin trees and cover cars. "You can shake one of my trees, and all you'll see is cement," said one meeting attendee to representatives of American Cement.
Around 90 people attended the meeting last week, including several members of the Air Quality Division of the city's Environmental Health Department, representatives from American Cement, and State Sen. Dede Feldman and State Rep. Edward Sandoval. The meeting lasted a little more than three hours, as citizens let their feelings about American Cement and its intentions be known. Many expressed wishes that the company would close down the facility instead of increasing the amount of cement transported and stored within its walls.
In response to criticisms about the station's air pollution, American Cement Environmental Manager Doug Roark stresses that if the permit were passed, his company would still be in compliance with all city, state and national laws.
"We want to be a responsible business partner in the community, but we want to be profitable as well," Roark says. The permit will increase profits for American Cement, he added, as the company believes the demand for cement will increase over the next few years.
Despite his assurances during the meeting, the testimony of personal hardships continued. One woman fought back tears as she blamed her young daughter's asthma on the facility's pollution.
Roark says his own experiences at the transfer station don't match up with the complaints aired during the meeting. "I'm not there every day, but when I walk around and underneath where the trucks are being loaded, there's no material on the ground. It's hard for me to see the scenarios they're talking about," Roark says. "Nothing like what was mentioned at the meeting has happened to me when I've visited the facility." Roark also says the fact that only one complaint about the facility has been made to the city's 311 hotline speaks to his company's commitment to being a good neighbor. In an e-mail, Air Quality official Christella A. Armijo says 29 citizen complaints have been filed with the division regarding American Cement's facility.
Kyle Silfer, president of the Greater Gardner Neighborhood Association and the Weekly Alibi's systems manager, requested the meeting six months ago. He says the calculations used by American Cement to determine how much pollution will be released count on 99.9 percent of all total suspended particulates being trapped by the company's filtering equipment. Some residents who spoke at the meeting were skeptical that all but .1 percent of pollution would be eliminated before entering the air.
Roark asserts that those numbers are backed by the equipment manufacturer's guarantee.
More through-traffic at the transfer station means more trucks in the area, which is something the neighborhood can ill-afford, according to many at the meeting. "My estimations, based on American Cement's numbers, are that there will be around 108,000 truck trips to and from the facility per year," says Near North Valley Neighborhood Association President Claude Morrelli. "That's a significant amount of truck traffic."
American Cement paid for Harwich Transportation to conduct a study, which concluded that the increased number of trucks in the neighborhood would have no substantial effects on traffic.
Although he's pleased with the high turnout at the meeting, Morrelli says he's disappointed the Environmental Health Department didn't do more to publicize it. As is required by law, the department posted a notice in the Albuquerque Journal 30 days before the meeting, telling people about the event and its purpose. Morrelli's not convinced that's enough to keep people in the know. "Public notice requirements are almost nonexistent," Morrelli says. "I was very pleased to see the large turnout, but that was due, in no small part, to all the work people in the various neighborhood associations put in to get the word out."
Air Quality Division Manager Christopher P. Albrecht says there is no timetable for when the city will reach a decision on whether to grant the permit. "It shouldn't take a whole month, but we've got a lot of public comments to go through," Albrecht says. "People had a lot to say."