Indiana Cement Plant Seeking to Burn Hazardous Waste Spurs Zoning Dispute

– by James Bruggers, February 18, 2016, Courier Journal

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Photo: ISHN.com

The southern Indiana cement plant seeking to burn hazardous wastes may have a zoning fight on its hands.

A cement company seeking to burn hazardous waste was told a year ago by a Clark County planning executive that it wouldn’t need a zoning change, according to a letter made public Thursday. But news that county officials had earlier endorsed the waste-burning plan outraged neighbors.

If it gets environmental permits, Essroc Cement will be allowed to burn the waste to fuel a cement kiln without having the plant rezoned as a special hazardous waste disposal district, Michael Taggett, executive director of the Clark County Plan Commission, wrote to the company on Jan. 26, 2015.

A Louisville area environmental advocate says the hazardous waste zone was created a quarter century ago just for the cement company in an earlier fight over cement kiln fuels.

And outside experts on Thursday questioned how Tackett could have made any determination that liquids regulated as hazardous waste by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management could not be considered hazardous waste by Clark County government.

“They can consider it vanilla ice cream if they want,” said James Pew, a lawyer with the national environmental group Earthjustice. “But it’s hazardous waste.”

It’s a critical question.

If the company is required to be in the county’s hazardous waste zone, it could block Essroc from using a new liquid fuel from solvents, paints, and other chemicals along with coal. That land-use category bans various activities involving hazardous waste within one mile of other businesses, residences and schools. All of those are even closer to the plant at 301 US 31 in Speed.

Tackett was not in the office Thursday afternoon and did not respond to a request for comment through email. Wednesday, he declined to comment other than to say no final decision had been made about the company’s future zoning requirements and that the matter was still under discussion.

County officials released the letter to The Courier-Journal Thursday afternoon, following a public records act request made Wednesday.

Clark County Commission President Jack Coffman said he believed the company’s current zoning was acceptable because “the waste is not actually being manufactured there.”

He referred other questions to Tackett, while adding: “I think it (the zoning) is a good question. It’s very fitting that people ask that question.”

Clark County Vice President Rick Stephenson also referred questions to Tackett.

But he questioned whether the chemicals the company wants to burn are really hazardous wastes. “The more they say hazardous waste, the worse it sounds,” he said.

Sellersburg area residents fighting the company’s plan to switch out some of its coal-burning to what Indiana also calls “liquid waste derived fuel” believe the zoning question is critical – and that the company’s zoning needs to be changed.

“The chemicals that they are hauling are classified as hazardous waste, so how they think they can get away with hauling it in there and using it in their kilns without being zoned … (for) hazardous waste is beyond rational,” said Teri Corya, a Sellersburg resident fighting the proposal. “A pile of manure with a pretty red bow on it is still a pile of manure.”

She said she’s looking into her legal options.

“Obviously, they are not zoned for the ‘disposal, destruction or recycling of toxic chemicals’,” as the zoning language requires, said longtime Louisville area environmental advocate Bob Bottom in recalling how that zoning restriction came to be following a similar hazardous-waste battle against the cement plant’s former owners in the early 1990s.

The creation of a hazardous waste district was the result of more than year-long process aimed directly at the cement plant, including a study group that recommended the new zoning, Bottom said.

The Courier-Journal reported in 1993 that Clark County commissioners banned the burning of hazardous waste within a mile of homes or businesses – excluding nearly all of the county.

Essroc plant director Mike McHugh declined to comment on the zoning question other than to say that the company had been given assurances by county officials that his company would not need to be placed in the restrictive hazardous waste district zone, and could proceed with its plans.

Earlier this week he said the fuel change would allow the plant to produce cement more efficiently and with fewer emissions, and would increase the long-term viability of the plant that’s been part of the community since 1870.

IDEM officials are weighing an air quality permit for the facility and will also need to approve a hazardous waste permit, following a risk-assessment of the proposal.

Bottom said the discussion now “seems like reinventing the wheel. We thought this was settled in 1993.”

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