As Puebloans wait for a decision from local planning officials on the fate of a proposed cement plant just a few miles south of downtown, at least some clean-air activists are encouraged that their protests are having an effect.
While the Planning and Zoning Commission expected to make a final decision on the controversial plant at its Sept. 26 meeting, some local organizers say the Pueblo Commissioners have already begun applying more scrutiny to proposals with potential environmental side effects.
Case in point is a recent decision to not allow an asphalt plant in an area close to residential zones. Organizer Alvin Rivera said such a move can be attributed to the outcry that fell on the commissioners after local officials lured the cement plant to Pueblo without public input ("Proposed Pueblo cement plant kicks up dust," Aug. 10).
The activists say the plant will spew dust and other toxic pollutants during the cement-kilning process and that it's proposed to be located too close to downtown.
"The commissioners expressed the opinion that it was not a good location for [an asphalt plant] and that they would work with the president of that company to relocate to another site," said Rivera, vice president of Citizens for Clean Air in Pueblo and Southern Colorado (CCAP). "That is significant. The commissioners were conveying a lot greater sensitivity to development and issues that deal with clear air and water."
"I think the commissioners realized [after the protests] that they needed to do more homework on the cement plant," he added. "There was not the sensitivity to the development of sources that pollute the air. Consequently, this becomes a significant decision on the commissioners' part.
"While they are not recanting their position on the cement plant, I think in the future, they will be much more careful," he added.
Meanwhile, however, another controversy over the plant has continued to smolder. Recently revealed documents show that Jim Spaccamonti, the president of the Pueblo Economic Development Company, or PEDCO, did indeed lure the cement plant to the city, despite public denials during the permitting process.
PEDCO's involvement in the cement plant has been controversial because critics say the deal was made in secret.
Here's what Spaccamonti said at a July hearing on the plant after critics complained of PEDCO's secret campaign to lure the company to Pueblo: "I want to state for the record: PEDCO did not recruit this company to come here; the limestone and Mother Nature did," Spaccamonti said, referring to the limestone deposit that the cement company plans to mine at the site.
Meanwhile, at least 2 letters to state and county officials, sent by Spaccamonti in January 2000 and February 1999, both use the phrase: "After being courted by PEDCO for almost four years, Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua recently announced ..."
In subsequent articles, in the Pueblo Business Journal, Spaccamonti and Grupos Cementos officials denied there was any contradiction, saying that cement plant officials were interested in the site two years before PEDCO got involved.
But in a related development, it turns out Spaccamonti's uncle, John Spaccamonti, who owns an excavating company in Pueblo, was listed as project manager for the cement plant in permit applications as far back as 1998.
Critics say the connections prove that, from the beginning, the cement plant was an insider deal not intended for the benefit of average Puebloans.
But James Spaccamonti has defended his actions, telling the Pueblo Business Journal that, "just because you have the same last name as me doesn't mean you can't compete in a free market," referring to his uncle's freedom to bid for business from the cement company.
-- Malcolm Howard
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