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Traffic, site design debated as residents fight concrete plant expansion

UPPER MARLBORO – Port Town residents are continuing to push back against plans for a concrete batching plant in their area.

A group of residents, including the Port Towns Environmental Action Coalition (PTEAC), has organized a campaign against a proposal by Ernest Maier to add a concrete batching plant – which would make large quantities of concrete – to their existing concrete blocking facility in Bladensburg. The plan would require a special exception to move forward, and the residents took their case to the Zoning Hearing Examiner (ZHE), over several days, ending on Sept. 6.

“We filled the room again with concerned citizens, Port Town Community leaders and business owners expressing their opinions about the proposed concrete batching plant and the related threat to the health and safety to our Port Towns Community,” said Denise Hamler, a Cottage City resident.

Hamler and the PTEAC hired an attorney and called more than 20 witnesses during three ZHE sessions. The ZHE is a quasi-judicial body tasked with conducting the evidentiary hearings for zoning matters to come before the District Council. Those testifying are sworn in and must meet qualifications to be considered expert witnesses.

Non-experts may also testify, and last week several did including state Sen. Victor Ramirez and Del. Dianna Fennell, who expressed opposition to the plan on behalf of the community.

Fennell said she has heard from constituents saying there is a rise in asthma in the Port Towns area, and pollution is to blame. Later in the hearing, Professor Sacoby Wilson with the University of Maryland School of Public Health would testify to the same point.

“I am not against more jobs, but I am against pollution,” Fennell said. “We don’t need that.”

The company and some residents who support the expansion do so partly because of the potential new jobs generated by the added use on the site. Much of the witness testimony, however, dealt with specific details of the site plan submitted by Ernest Maier. Expert witness Mark Ferguson, a land planner based in Upper Marlboro, explained that the special exception would be required to build infrastructure within the setbacks spelled out in county code. The reason the company has designed the site that way is to help reduce potential pollution, he argued.

“They (trucks) don’t need to drive around the site with their load, and that’s not just a matter of efficiency. It’s less noise and less air pollution,” he said. “He’s not spending his time driving around emitting gas and dust.”

The lawyer for the residents’ group, Dave Blitzer, said that because the hardships imposed by the site design were inflicted by Ernest Maier by choice and not as a result of the property’s features, the special exception should not be granted. He also raised concerns about the increased truck traffic in the area, which is already congested.

Kimberly Fisher, who works at the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, spoke to the traffic issue, although she was not granted expert status. She said in her review of the documents submitted in the case, she was concerned by the number of assumptions that were made in doing the traffic projections that were not clearly spelled out.

“Big trucks take longer to move through intersections,” yet the report “had used kind of a canned percentage of large vehicles in the count,” Fisher said. “This is such a predominantly industrial area. These trucks really need to be accounted for in a different way.”

The case will be held open until Sept. 22. After the record closes, the ZHE will examine all the evidence and deliver a verdict, sending the case to the District Council to make the final decision. The county’s Planning Board has also pledged to hold a public hearing on the plant if the ZHE has not issued a decision by Sept. 28.

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