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Publish Date: 4/14/2005

CEMEX cleared to burn tires
Plant could use up to 1 million tires a year for fuel

BOULDER — Boulder County’s top judge on Tuesday cleared the way for a Lyons cement plant to burn as many as 1 million tires each year for fuel, but stressed that she did not necessarily endorse tires as a fuel source.

The CEMEX plant in Lyons still has a valid permit to burn tires to help power its cement kiln, Boulder County District Court Judge Roxanne Bailin wrote.

However, “the court is making no ruling concerning whether burning tires is or is not a health hazard,” she stressed in a boldface preface to her seven-page decision.

Residents who live near CEMEX should contact local environmental regulators “obliged to care for our environment and the health and safety of our community” if they have further concerns about CEMEX, Bailin added.

Assistant county attorney Pat Mayne was pleased with the ruling, which applies only to rules and procedures rather than environmental concerns. However, Mayne said Bailin’s preface to the order was rare.

“I’ve never seen a disclaimer like that on an order,” Mayne said.

The Sierra Club sued county officials in October 2002 after they ruled that CEMEX’s 1989 tire-burning permit was still active, even though the company had not used it since natural gas and coal prices dropped in 1993. A county ordinance voids certain permits if they are inactive for five years, but the county’s board of adjustment and land use officials said that rule did not apply to CEMEX.

Bailin’s court order endorsed the county’s initial decision.

The ruling called some aspects of the Sierra Club’s suit “strained and illogical.”

Sierra Club attorney John Barth said Wednesday he was disappointed with the ruling.

CEMEX plant manager John Lohr said his company was “thrilled to death” with the ruling.

The company will begin using tires for about 19 percent of its fuel needs “as quickly as we can get the designs and the money” to build a storage facility for used tires, he said.

CEMEX will be helping the public by eliminating between 700,000 and 1 million of the roughly 4 million tires discarded annually in Colorado, Lohr said.

“That’s a lot of tires that are not going to a landfill or storage yard,” he said.

CEMEX’s tangles with environmental activists aren’t over, according to Lou Dobbs, a resident who lives near the plant and heads the Environmental Justice Project Group.

The tire-burning issues represents only “about 20 percent” of Dobbs’ concerns with the plant, which include noise, traffic and dust.

“We will continue to closely, closely monitor CEMEX,” Dobbs said Wednesday. “They have an opportunity to do this in a good way and we’ll see what they do.”

CEMEX has argued that state officials found no major health risk from burning tires in a series of tests in 2003 and 2004.

The case grew contentious at times in the two and a half years between filing and dismissal of the Sierra Club lawsuit.

In January, Bailin ordered several CEMEX neighbors to stop calling her with their concerns, saying judges are supposed to decide cases impartially.

Brad Turner can be reached at 720-494-5420, or by e-mail at bturner@times-call.com.

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