NAACP plans petition drive against proposed Gifford cement plant

By Lisa Zahner

GIFFORD — Tony Brown lives about 50 feet from the site where a concrete plant has received county site approval to be built and he’s not happy about that. In an effort to stop the project, Brown is working on a petition drive and seeking support from in and outside Gifford to get the county’s attention.

“I’m going to need other concerned citizens to help with the petition,” Brown said, in a presentation to the Democratic Women’s Club of Indian River County earlier this month. “We have to be afforded the opportunity of everybody coming together. If it happens to me and it happens in Gifford, it can happen to you.”

Brown serves as president of the local chapter of the NAACP in Gifford, so he has the network and the connections to educate others in the neighborhood about the fact that the plant, which will mix ash and other potentially hazardous materials, is planned just across the street from a residential area.

Over the weekend, Brown took the concept of the petition to his colleagues at the NAACP state convention in Miami and got feedback. He said he and the chapter secretary have also received valuable insight and strategies from a citizen group in Sebastian which was successful at halting construction of a similar plant.

The next step is an emergency meeting of the local NAACP executive board on Thursday at which they will consider launching the petition drive and determine how and where to conduct the effort.

It’s up to the NAACP to notify the neighbors that Prestige Concrete was set to build a plant because Indian River County was under no obligation to do so. The land on 45th Street between 43rd Avenue and 58th Avenue was already zoned General Industrial, so no zoning variance was needed that would have caused a notification by mail or other means of the adjoining property owners, according to county staff.

“It’s not a requirement,” said County Senior Planner John McCoy.

McCoy said Prestige Concrete Construction and Development General Manager Tom Lang began pre-application procedures back in December 2006 on the six-acre site, which at the time of site plan approval had a mobile home park in the front. Brown said the site currently houses an abandoned truss manufacturing facility.

The county approved the site plan for Prestige in 2007, but so far, the developer has not come forth with the impact fees and permitting required for the county to release the site plan and issue permits for construction.

“There are a variety of permits they have to get, local state and from the DEP as well,” McCoy said. “They’ve also got to get approved an eastbound righthand turn lane and a westbound lefthand turn lane.”

Brown will present a proposed petition to the NAACP executive board on Thursday and, upon approval, will begin collecting signatures, with the goal of collecting at least 5,000 signatures.

The Environmental Protection Agency describes the process of how cement is made as the following:

“Cement is produced by burning mixtures of limestone, minerals, and other additives at high temperatures in a special rotary kiln. Hot air mixing with the raw materials creates a chemical reaction and produces ‘clinker,’ marble-sized pellets and sand-sized particles. The clinker is removed from the kiln, cooled, finished, and ground for bagging.”

Cement kiln dust is a by-product of this process, according to the EPA and this fine dust is called a “special waste” and must be properly disposed of so that it does not contaminate the air or groundwater.

Brown is taking the issue of the cement plant and the petition drive to greater Indian River County because he said stopping the plant is important not only to Gifford residents who will live, work and play next door to the plant, but to everyone who drinks or uses water or cares about the safety of the water supply, as the Gifford area sits above the shallow aquifer (only about 100 feet deep) which provides most of the groundwater to South and East-Central Florida.

According to McCoy, the county already has several concrete plants, including the Rinker plant is located west of U.S. 1 behind the K-Mart plaza and the Russell plant on 71st Street north of 69th Street and that the reduced demand for concrete due to the slump in new construction could be a major factor in the current delay of the plant being built.

Visual journalist Keith Carson contributed to this article.

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