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Cement plant expansion to cost about $400 million

January 25, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A North American cement manufacturer's plan to more than double production at its Berkeley County plant is expected to cost more than $400 million when an expansion and modernization project is done sometime next year, according to company officials.

The price tag for Nazareth, Pa.-based Essroc to build a new kiln and make a number of other upgrades at its sprawling plant site just south of Martinsburg has increased by $80 million since the plans surfaced in January 2006.

In a tour of the plant on Thursday, plant manager Derek Nicholls said the project had been somewhat hampered by rock cavities, which have prompted the need to inject concrete into the ground for foundation work.

Nicholls said the new plant will be able to produce 1.8 million tons of cement per year, an increase that factors in the company's decision to close facilities in Frederick, Md., he said.

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"We're only actually growing 500,000 tons per year," Nicholls said of the company's consolidation of operations.

Though the housing market is currently in a slump, Nicholls said the company is hoping the new facilities are on-line to benefit from a projected stabilization of the construction industry. Nicholls said the company has between 50 and 70 years of "permitted" stone and virtually an unlimited supply of raw materials for cement. The lone exception is gypsum, which Nicholls said was being shipped in from Nova Scotia. The company also fuels their manufacturing process with coke and coal, which also is shipped in trucks and by railroad.

In addition to a 110-foot aluminum "stone" dome already visible to motorists from Apple Harvest Drive, plans include construction of a mostly steel "pre-heat" tower that will be about 500 feet tall and a co-generation power facility that will generate four megawatts of electricity, Nicholls said.

"Allegheny (Power) has asked us to connect to the grid," Nicholls said.

The plant currently uses about 25 megawatts, he said.

Plans also include a new entrance to the plant from Apple Harvest Drive at the New York Avenue intersection, Nicholls said. An entrance built from U.S. 11 for the project's staging area near the community of Pikeside is not expected to be used for regular access, but Nicholls didn't believe it would be entirely eliminated as an alternative access point for the company.

In the coming months, Nicholls estimated between 400 and 800 workers would be working on the construction phase of the project, which he said would a driving force in Martinsburg's economy.

After permitting the project in 2005, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials said the modernization of the plant, which dates to the 1950s, would result in less emission of tiny particles and ozone-causing gases, but carbon monoxide emissions still would increase.

The upgrades will mean a slight decrease in employment, from 186 people currently to a range between 140 and 150, Nicholls said.

Nicholls recounted the company's deal with city and county officials to provide access to millions of gallons of water that the plant will no longer need after it switches to a "dry" production process.

Along with substantial emission reductions, Nicholls said the company's efforts demonstrate its interest in being a "good corporate citizen" in the Martinsburg community.

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