One narrow street and a tall wall is all that separates Perry Key’s North Valley house from a cement transfer station.
“Sometimes there is a haze on my cars, like a gray cement dust,” Key says. “I'm sure it's killed plenty of things. I don't know what it's done to us. It can’t be good for you.”
Key shot a video in June of last year (viewable on this page) that shows cement dust spewing out from one of the transfer station’s storage silos. “This is a daily occurrence,” Key says. “They’ll tell you this was an exceptional day, but I know it’s not because I live next door.”
Last month, American Cement, the company that owns the transfer station, applied for a permit with the city that would allow it to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As things stand, the facility (at 4702 Carlton NW) can move cement 11 hours a day, six days a week. If approved, the new permit would significantly increase the amount of pollution the station is allowed to emit.
The transfer station does not produce cement. It is a facility where cement comes in, usually by train, and gets loaded onto trucks for distribution. Key says he worries longer hours will mean more noise from the cement-hauling trucks. “If they’re going all the time, that will keep us up all day,” Key says. “How are we going to sleep?”
With the permit it has now, the transfer station can release up to 3.9 tons of total suspended particulates—
American Cement’s pollution calculations assume that 99.95 percent of all particulate matter is caught by the company’s filtration equipment. (The cartridges used by American Cement are backed by a guarantee that promises 99.95 percent of emissions will be captured before they enter the air.)
“The economy is hitting everybody. What we want to be able to do is be flexible.”
Grupo Cementos’ environmental and process manager, Doug Roark
Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua bought American Cement in January 2008. In the spring of last year, American Cement withdrew a similar permit request that would have increased operating hours and pollution at the transfer station. Grupo Cementos’ environmental and process manager, Doug Roark, says the application was not yanked because of neighborhood outcry. “Having just acquired American Cement, we wanted to pull the permit and make sure that it was aligned with our business strategies and the direction that we wanted to go,” Roark says.
After close examination, Roark says increasing hours and cement through-traffic will help Grupo Cementos stay competitive. “The economy is hitting everybody,” Roark says. “What we want to be able to do is be flexible.”
Roark says there are jobs that require a cement transfer facility to be open at odd hours or on the weekend. Grupo Cementos wants to be able to bid on those projects without the hindrance of an 11-hour workday, he adds. “It's not that we plan to start operating 24-hours the day we get the permit,” Roark says. “That’s going to be on an exception basis.”
Roark says he and other Grupo Cementos staff members plan to meet with worried neighbors in the hopes of easing their qualms. “Our core strategy is to be transparent, work with these neighborhood groups and listen to everything they have to say,” Roark says. “We're going to be good business partners with the community. We'll take all their input and concerns to heart.”
“For the sake of our children and the children at La Luz, I hope the permit isn’t accepted.”
David Rubin, owner of the Mountain Mahogany Community School property
Last year, close to 70 neighborhood residents voiced their opposition to the permit request at a public hearing. Some complained about cement dust getting in their trees or on their cars. Many also mentioned the noise and traffic caused by the trucks driving to and from the facility. The city’s environmental engineering manager, Israel Tavarez, says he expects another hearing will be scheduled for the new permit request.
As of Monday, April 20, the division received one comment from the public on the new application. A hearing may not be scheduled if there isn’t significant interest expressed by residents.
Pages of complaints were recorded by the division during last year’s meeting. Tavarez says Air Quality will speak with the city’s legal department to discuss whether those complaints will be factored into the decision on the new permit.
The cement transfer station is three blocks from Mountain Mahogany Community School and two from La Luz Elementary. David Rubin, who owns the Mountain Mahogany property, says the permit should be denied. “For the sake of our children and the children at La Luz, I hope the permit isn’t accepted,” Rubin says. “I also hope they don’t keep re-applying.”
State Sen. Dede Feldman, who represents the North Valley, says residents don’t have the technical expertise to judge whether the increased pollution poses a threat to their health. “That's something that is a real concern to me," says Feldman. Her constituents “don't have the lobbyists and the lawyers that American Cement seems to have."
The longtime legislator says the Air Quality Division should hire an independent consultant to double-check American Cement’s emission calculations. Feldman says she plans to write a letter to the division asking for a public hearing to discuss the proposed permit change. “The residents in the area need some help from a non-biased third party,” Feldman says. “We would hope that that would be the role of the local government.”