BLADENSBURG — The Zone Hearing Examiner held a meeting on Tuesday, June 19 to hear testimony for and against the construction of a concrete batching plant to be built in the heart of Bladensburg, Md. following a remand order from the District Council in May.
Many in the Bladensburg community are opposed to the building of the plant. One of the strongest advocates against it is Port Towns Environmental Action (PTEA), a coalition founded in 2017 to advocate for environmental and social justice in the Port Towns communities in Bladensburg.
PTEA has worked hard to gain support from Bladensburg and the surrounding area to oppose the concrete batching plant.
“First, we did research on our own then once we knew enough we shared it with the community,” said PTEA Community Advocate Paul Howe.
The organization have an ongoing presence in the community by holding meetings to share information with the public, an active Facebook page and attending the zoning hearings to share their reasons for opposing the plant.
“More people know about it now and are getting involved,” he said.
Ernest Maier, Inc., the company trying to build the plant, applied in December 2016 and was accepted for review. In the months that followed, they brought their proposed site plans before the Zone Hearing Examiner (ZHE) and in November 2017, the Examiner recommended the plant for approval despite strong opposition from the community.
“The decision to build the plant has been in process for a long time,” Howe said. “We (PTEA) first became aware of it in June 2017. August 2017 was the first time it came before the ZHE. It’s been about 10 months.”
On April 16, 2018, the County Council, sitting as the District Council, issued a remand on the application stating that the application “lacks evidence to resolve the Opposition Exceptions to the Examiner’s findings and conclusions to grant Applicant’s variances and special exceptions.”
“As a general matter, the District Council may take one of three different actions on a request for Special Exception and Variances,” said PTEA Attorney David Blitzer in a statement updating the community following the remand. “The District Council may approve the request, deny the request or remand the matter back to the Zoning Hearing Examiner for further proceedings.”
Because of the remand, the applicant was asked to meet with the ZHE for another hearing to provide additional evidence required by the District Council.
The remand took issue with the or distance from surrounding properties and required that the revised site plan contain the appropriate distances from residential and commercial zones and other industrial zones as well as better explain what sets Ernest Maier Inc.’s plant apart from other industrial plants in the area.
In addition to insufficient evidence, the District Council issued the remand upon finding that the ZHE did not properly follow the appropriate standard of review for a variance of special exception when making their original decision to recommend the plant for approval.
At the remand hearing, the applicant made significant revisions to their site plan taking the application from two variances and a special exception to a special exception with no variances therefore avoiding the concerns the District Council had about the variance requests in the first application.
The PTEA and other members of the community are against the plant due to the impact it will have on the environment.
“It would add increased particulate matter in the air which would end up in the Anacostia,” Howe said. “There would be diesel fuel exhaust. The traffic and the size of the trucks would, besides the exhaust, be dangerous.”
In addition to environmental concerns, the concrete batching plant would be located very close to residential and commercial areas. It would be located two blocks from the Bladensburg Library and Bladensburg Elementary School, 40 feet from the historic Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church and 1,500 feet from the Anacostia River.
There is heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the area and, according to Prince George’s County’s Transforming Neighborhood Initiative, it already has a high rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
Bladensburg already bears a disproportionate amount of environmental burdens. The town already has four concrete plants within close proximity and is in the 90 to 95th percentile in the United States for National Air Toxics Assessment cancer risk.
Despite the remand hearing, the ZHE has not yet made a decision on whether to go forward with the concrete batching plant.
“It’s one part of a long process,” Howe said.
Following the remand hearing, the ZHE is allowing the applicant to submit a summary memorandum by July 3. The opposition can submit a response by July 17 and a further response from the applicant will be due by July 29. The ZHE will then deliberate and rule on the evidence at a later date.
“At this point our next steps are to raise community awareness,” Howe said. “We’ll consult with our lawyer and continue to raise awareness and do research.”