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Cost to upgrade W.Va. cement plant up $140 million in 2 years

August 29, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- The cost of a cement company's plan to retool its cement plant south of Martinsburg and increase production there has increased by about $140 million since 2006, when Berkeley County officials approved site plans for the project.

Higher fuel, steel and general construction costs, along with upgrades for compliance with environmental regulation and overall production efficiency have contributed to increasing the project's price tag to about $460 million, Essroc director of communication Marco Barbesta said Thursday.

"When this is all said and done, we'll certainly be up to par with the most up-to-date technologies that there is in the business," Barbesta said.

Capitol Cement is a parent company of Essroc, which is a member of Italcementi Group based in Bergamo, Italy.

Because of the size of the project, Barbesta said he was reluctant to give a projected completion date.

Plans to upgrade Capitol Cement Corp.'s 849-acre quarry site and cement production facilities south of the South Queen Street interchange with W.Va. 9 were permitted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2005.

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A DEP engineer who reviewed the Capitol Cement permit application for the upgrades said in 2006 that the company would be reducing all pollutants except carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.

The permit issued by the DEP allows Essroc to annually emit up to 992.1 tons of total suspended particulate matter, 5,702.6 tons of sulfur dioxide, 4,493 tons of carbon monoxide, 3,704 tons of oxides of nitrogen, 159.4 tons of volatile organic compounds, 1.2 tons of fluorides and 2.7 tons of lead.

In 2006, the Martinsburg plant ranked 23rd among the 100 largest cement-producing facilities in the U.S. for on- and off-site releases of mercury and mercury compounds, according to Toxics Release Inventory data released in February by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The company's upgrades were touted Thursday by the Berkeley County Commission as a substantial, environment-friendly investment before the commission approved an amendment to a tax abatement agreement with the company.

"They're putting a heckuva investment in Berkeley County," said Norwood Bentley III, the commission's legal counsel.

By approving the amendment, the commission endorsed the company's plan to obtain an additional $140 million through the West Virginia Economic Development Authority. The approval also renews a prior commitment to a tax abatement deal and the company's agreement to provide the county conditional access to water at the plant site.

The Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement provides Capitol Cement with tax relief at the time period when Essroc is expected to repay the state for the lease revenue bonds issued for the project.

Until the agreement is terminated or adjusted, Capitol Cement will make payments at rates of 25 percent or 50 percent of what the company would have been assessed in property taxes, Bentley said.

The company also agreed to retain a minimum of 150 full-time equivalent jobs at the cement plant, according to the amendment.

Among the most visible additions to the plant will be a 500-foot-tall steel tower, which officials previously acknowledged affected flight patterns at nearby Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

"It's starting to go up," Barbesta said of the massive structure.

The tower will be more than double the height of two existing stacks and will dilute and more greatly disperse emitted particulate matter and other pollutants, officials have said.

Aside from the replacement of kilns, enclosure of raw material piles and additional processing equipment, the company in July 2008 received approval from the Berkeley County Planning Commission to add a second entrance to access W.Va. 9 at the New York Avenue intersection.

Tom Aldridge of Essroc told planning commissioners on July 21 that truck traffic using the intersection would happen between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. to avoid congestion.

Plant officials have said the new plant will be able to produce 1.8 million tons of cement per year, an increase that factored into the company's decision to close a plant in Frederick, Md.

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