KNAU and Arizona News
9:46 pm
Tue March 24, 2009

Cement plant proposed near Seligman

Seligman, AZ – Building materials titan Cemex plans to build a cement plant 50 miles from the Grand Canyon. The move would bring jobs and a tax base to Seligman, a small rural town that hasn't seen much action since travelers got their kicks on Route 66. But environmentalists are concerned about air quality and Seligman is divided over how growth would affect their quaint community. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has the story.

There are no stop lights in Seligman and locals say the stop signs are optional. Angel Delgadillo likes it that way.

DELGADILLO: It is America of yesterday.

AMBY: run store amby under scene.

The town is known for its Route 66 charm. Delgadillo and his family run a souvenir shop that sells Route 66 key chains, Route 66 T shirts and even Route 66 thimbles. Route 66 along with the town of Seligman were bypassed by Interstate 40 about 25 years ago and it took a while to bring people back.

DELGADILLO: I don't hurt. I don't live in the past but I don't forget how it was for 10 long years. Seligman is alive and well now.

The town has experienced change before. But Delgadillo says a cement plant wouldn't bring the type of change that he wants.

DELGADILLO: I watch Flagstaff grow. I watch Kingman, Prescott Valley, Prescott. You open up the newspaper another killing, another wreck, another mugging give me your money or else so this is growth. With money block by block it changes its identity. And I would not want to lose our identity.

Seligman has an identity thanks in large part to Delgadillo. Tour buses frequently stop here on their way to the Grand Canyon.

Across the street at the "World Famous Black Cat Bar" the bartender doesn't want to see the town's identity go away either. He goes by Boston, yes, just Boston. He likes the idea of more jobs and more patrons at his bar.

BOSTON: I'm just thinking it's going to bring some more revenue. It's going to bring more business into town so that's a good thing. Right now the air is fine and we don't want to be part of Phoenix.

A lot of people are concerned that the air won't be fine if the cement plant is built. The Hualapai Tribe and environmentalists are worried about its impacts to Grand Canyon National Park. Roger Clark is a spokesman for the Grand Canyon Trust.

CLARK: The prevailing winds in this part of the Colorado Plateau generally blow from the southwest to the northeast. And that puts the plant's proximity exactly upwind from the heart of the Grand Canyon.

Clark is worried about sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that would impair visibility at the canyon and impact human health.

The Hualapai tribe is worried about the large amount of ground water the plant would use.

But Cemex spokeswoman Jennifer Borgen says they plan to build an environmentally friendly plant.

BORGEN: It's plain and simple the plant will need to meet the strictest requirements ever written by the state and federal agencies because it's close to the Grand Canyon. If it cannot it will not receive the permit or not be allowed to operate. It's that simple.

Cemex plans to use coal and petroleum coke to fuel the plant. Petroleum coke is a carbon rich solid fuel derived from oil refineries. Northern Arizona University environmental engineer Bill Auberle says coal would emit a lot of ash and a lot of particulate matter that would likely impair visibility at the canyon.

AUBERLE: My concern is this that the clean air act of the United States says that no man made air pollution shall impair visibility at the Grand Canyon National Park and other parks. Zero! We're not to be fouling the air at Grand Canyon.

Auberle says Grand Canyon already experiences smog from places much farther away than Seligman as far away as northern Mexico and Los Angeles. And he says Cemex has a history of running afoul with the Environmental Protection Agency.

AUBERLE: Cemex does not have a strong environmental track record. They talk about sustainability and commitment to a greener environment. But it will take all of that and perhaps more to own and operate a cement plant as they've proposed.

Auberle says the technology exists to build a clean cement plant but it costs a lot of money. So it takes resources and commitment. Cemex's Jennifer Borgen says the company is committed to developing the lowest emissions producing kiln in the US.

BORGEN: We know the economy's going to come back. We know it's going to bounce back and demand before the recession started in Arizona was very robust. Cement had to be imported into the state. Building this plant that at least 90 percent at least 90 percent is going to stay in the state to support whether it's road building or home building or road repairs or bridge repairs.

Cemex is in the permitting process and it will probably take another year or two to find out whether the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the US Environmental Protection Agency will allow them to build.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Seligman.