A proposed concrete plant in Prince George’s County and its possible environmental effects have pitted some residents in the Port Towns area against each other.
Ernest Maier Inc. seeks to open a concrete batching plant that would use water, sand and gravel to produce cement. The Bladensburg masonry company established in 1926 already houses a concrete manufacturing plant on the nearly five-acre site, which former President Barack Obama visited more than seven years ago to talk about small businesses.
“President Obama is not part of the record,” County Councilwoman Karen Toles (D-District 7) of Suitland told Jim Foster, president and CEO of the Anacostia Watershed Society, who supports the project.
The county council, which sat as the District Council on Monday, April 16, discussed a special exception appeal. The company proposes to operate both plants on the same property, share the same storage bins and utilize existing equipment. A new silo would be built on the land the company has utilized since the 1940s.
Lawyers, environmental advocates and others used some technical jargon associated with the proposal on the land zoned heavy industrial, but one major statement that literally turned heads dealt with air quality.
Daniel Lynch, a Greenbelt attorney representing Ernest Maier, said the company isn’t monitored by county and state officials regarding air quality for concrete and aren’t required to submit data.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, businesses classified as a “minor source” don’t have to monitor air quality based on size of a business, calculation of pollutants and/or hazardous pollutants and emissions released. Besides concrete batch plants, other businesses that could fall under this designation include gas stations, printing operations and sawmills.
Councilwoman Mary Lehman grilled Lynch on why the company didn’t spruce up the Anacostia River and build an irrigation system sooner.
“Why wait to expand this facility … to clean up the property?” she said.
Lynch said the company hasn’t received one infraction from the state and county and has operated within the confines of the law.
The county’s Zoning Hearing Examiner approved the project in November with 18 conditions, including:
• the installation of a “Welcome to Bladensburg” sign at the municipal border along Annapolis Road;
• limiting hours of operation to between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., with truck traffic no later than 5 p.m.; and
• the business making an annual contribution of at least $12,500 to Bladensburg for maintenance of Upshur Street.
Residents with the Port Towns Environmental Action group hired attorney David Blitzer of Chestertown, Maryland, to file an appeal in December.
Supporters and opponents waited almost four months to present oral arguments Monday.
“The [county’s] zoning hearing examiner has approved the process with no data because the law sucks,” said Sacoby Wilson, an associate professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland at College Park who assists communities on environmental topics. “We just heard in there that’s the law, but that doesn’t make it right. One point in time, Black folks couldn’t vote. Was that right? That logic makes no sense.”
Beside the Anacostia Watershed based in Bladensburg, town officials and some residents such as Susan McCutchen of Bladensburg also support the project.
“I have attended the meetings. Looked at the plans,” McCutchen said. “Ernest Maier has agreed legally and binding to address [the conditions]. No one has objected before to Ernest Maier. Why now?”
Lillie Blyther of Colman Manor expressed shock when she heard how state law doesn’t require the company to monitor air quality from its operation.
“The fact [Ernest Maier] hasn’t done something about this before … I don’t understand,” said Blyther, who has lived in Colman Manor since 1999. “[The company] should be thinking about cleaning the property first and then expanding.”
The council has until May 9 to decide on the project. If approved, the company would hire 10 additional employees, Lynch said in an interview last week.