District council waits to decide on concrete plant

concrete plant hearing photoUPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Council sitting as the District Council chose to “take the case under advisement” regarding a proposed concrete batching plant in Bladensburg on April 16. Consequently, the council will not take further action on the matter until May 9.

Ernest Maier, a mid-Atlantic masonry block manufacturer, hopes to add a concrete batching plant to their current operations on site in an I-2 heavy industrial zone off Kenilworth Avenue.

In order to construct this additional plant, the company requested a special exception and two variances regarding the setback requirements for a concrete batching site. One variance would be to permit the plant to be within 100 feet of an adjacent boundary; the second is to allow them to utilize their existing storage bins, which are about 20 feet, rather than 25, from Kenilworth Avenue.

The zoning hearing examiner (ZHE) approved the special exception and variances with conditions. Residents of the Port Towns community oppose granting the exception and argue the new plant would harm the local environment and the health of nearby residents, amounting to environmental injustice in a predominantly minority community. Supporters of the plant say it will help bring new jobs and that the improvements to the site necessitated by the construction will make the company more environmentally friendly.

Sacoby Wilson, an associate professor with the University of Maryland School of Public Health, testified on behalf of the opposition. He said particulate matter, which the plant may produce, can cause health complications such as asthma attacks, strokes, low birth rates and premature mortality.

Particulate matter is the total liquid and solid particles suspended in air.

Wilson said he worried because there were no studies on the potential health impacts on residents as well as the company workers.

Carlyncia Peck, a Bladensburg resident, said it was “very, very disturbing” to her that a health impact assessment was not completed regarding the proposed plant, although one is not legally required.

“I hope you look past that to the heart of the law,” Peck said.

Chris Melendez, a Bladensburg resident and member of the citizen group Port Towns Environmental Action, produced a seven-inch jar of dust she said she recently collected from the front stair of the Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church, which is located near the existing plant.

Daniel Lynch, the attorney for Ernest Maier, objected to this evidence on grounds that it was not submitted as prior testimony and the council accepted that objection. However, Melendez continued holding and referencing the jar, and so the council went on recess.

“I’m very concerned what we are breathing and what our children are breathing from particulate matter….incompatibility would have in highly dense urban setting with residents nearby,” Melendez said when the council resumed.

State Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-47) said he had concerns about the impact on the health of the cumulative effects of the expansions of heavy industrial businesses.

“Just because there’s a process doesn’t mean we have to approve it or we should,” Ramirez said.

Lynch said adding the second plant would require the company to comply with new environmental regulations, such as stormwater management, that were not in effect when the original plant was built in the 1960s.

“I understand the fears and concerns, but it is unsupported,” Lynch said.

Takisha James, the mayor of Bladensburg, spoke on behalf of Ernest Maier at the hearing.

“My hope is that it will motivate other businesses to seek similar sustainability initiatives,” James said. “Ernest Maier continues to be a tremendous community partner in our town. Sustainability and business shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”

“Ernest Maier has gone above and beyond what others would do,” she added.

The company agreed to more than a dozen conditions set by the town of Bladensburg, including general beautification of the plant, contributing to maintaining a nearby street, limiting the additional truck trips to 40 truckloads per day and adding an irrigation system to minimize dust.

Jim Foster with the Anacostia Watershed Society also testified in favor of building the second plant.

“We have identified the Ernest Maier property is in need of some improvements. We worked closely with the town to come up with a list of appropriate measures as part of a process to manage storm water better,” he said. “We will see a better impact on the (Anacostia River) as a direct result.”

Foster said there is no way to enforce recent environmental regulations unless the company undergoes new development.

Councilwoman Mary Lehman questioned why the company had not implemented these changes to make their business more environmentally-friendly in previous years before this expansion.

“Why does it take an expansion to clean up the property? Where have the investments been on the property?” Lehman said.

Lynch responded that the company has been complying with the law as it has applied to their site and has not had any violations. He also said the company has had site visits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

Speakers at the hearing also raised concerns about possible air pollutants, which could have a detrimental effect on a nearby historical site and a nearby elementary school.

“The air emissions are minor in nature,” Lynch said.

Lynch said their production would meet air quality regulations. Wilson agreed, but said these regulations were from a “bad law.”

Even if the company is not required to obtain a permit, that “doesn’t mean there are not emissions, that doesn’t mean there are no impacts,” Wilson said.

As there has been no site assessment and no data provided, Wilson said, there is no way of knowing what contaminants may currently be on site. The trucks could also emit pollutants and particulate matter.

“I’m very concerned about the effect of this plant, especially with the airborne pollutants, from the block plant and the proposed plant,” Melendez said. “As well as the heavy industrial truck traffic the plant will have and currently has.”

Andrea Harrison, whose district includes Bladensburg, did not speak the whole meeting until she advised taking the case under advisement.

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