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St. Lawrence Cement, NYTimes Editorial

   

Dutchess County Barn The New York Times - Westchester/Opinion Sunday, 9-5-04

Here We Are Again

For five years, environmental and public advocacy groups in the Hudson Valley have been fighting a proposal from St. Lawrence Cement to build an
immense new coal-fired cement plant just south of Hudson, N.Y. As it stands, the proposal is moving with excruciating slowness through the
Department of Environmental Conservation's approval process, heading toward eventual adjudication. The state has outlined nine major areas of concern that St. Lawrence Cement must address, including the plant's damaging visual impact in a historic, scenic region and the environmental impact of a toxic plume that would reach across much of the Northeast.

Recently, St. Lawrence Cement announced some changes to its plan - changes that have the effect of running full speed to stay in the same place. It hopes to make the plant nearly invisible by shifting it slightly south of the original location and by building it at a lower elevation. It also wants to lower the smokestack - again to reduce visual impact - by 45 feet. That still means the stack would be nearly 600 feet above the Hudson.

This would sound good, if we had not heard it before. The present location for the cement plant - in a quarry - was originally said to make the plant nearly invisible. But when balloons were launched over the quarry last April to show the actual physical dimensions of the plant, "invisible" went out the window. Observers were struck not only by the height of the future plant but by its extraordinary bulk, all of it set against views of the Hudson River, the Catskills and the Berkshires. The new site would make the plant less visible from some locations but more visible from others. The real trouble with these changes is the stack reduction. In 2001, St. Lawrence Cement engineers argued that the stack could not be lowered without greater fuel and water consumption and without an increase in dangerous emissions. And yet this is precisely what they are proposing now. If anything, a lower smokestack is likely to mean greater local deposits of wind-borne pollutants. This would only worsen air quality in a region that the American Lung Association ranks among the worse in the country.

What is the endgame here? The Department of Environmental Conservation seems to be in no rush to move toward adjudication. St. Lawrence Cement has asked for a lengthy delay as a result of these changes. The company may be trying to wait out the opposition, but perhaps the real point of the delay is to provide political cover for Gov. George Pataki, to give him a chance to finish his governorship without having to make a decision on this plant. That is unacceptable. We called nearly a year ago - and a year before that - for Mr. Pataki to find the political courage to put an end to this proposal. He has a rare opportunity to prevent serious environmental and scenic degradation of the Hudson River Valley. He should seize it before it's too late.

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