LafargeHolcim, state reach settlement

LafargeHolcim has reached a settlement agreement with New York state over environmental violations leading to Hudson River pollution.

COEYMANS — The state has reached an agreement with Holcim Inc. resolving alleged environmental violations at the company’s cement plant on Route 9W in Ravena.

The settlement requires the company to pay an $850,000 civil penalty, half of which will go to New York state, and includes $212,000 for a local project that would reduce pollution in the Hudson River, state Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

The company will also be required under the settlement agreement to comply with its water pollution control permit, implement updated water pollution best practices, submit a revised solid waste management facility permit to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and conduct a third-party audit of its water pollution and solid waste compliance at the facility.

Of the civil penalty, the $212,000 will be used as seed money for a “green” stormwater infrastructure project at Coeymans Landing Park on the Hudson River shoreline.

“For years, Holcim failed to live up to its legal responsibilities, repeatedly violating laws established to ensure the health of our waters,” James said. “Today, we hold this company accountable for polluting our natural resources and we ensure that proper measures are taken to remediate the harm caused to our communities.”

The company is accused of discharging untreated and partially treated contaminated water and stormwater into Coeymans Creek, which is a tributary of the Hudson River. The discharged water exceeded pollution control permit limits, including aluminum, toxicity, oil and grease, James said.

“This settlement helps protect clean water and ecosystems in the Hudson Valley for local communities and it has already improved Holcim’s compliance with critical federal and state environmental laws,” Environmental Protection Agency Acting Regional Administrator for Region 2 Walter Mugdan said.

Holcim was cited more than 260 times for exceeding permitted discharges between April 2015 and March 2019. Compliance improved later in 2019 and through 2020, James said.

LafargeHolcim spokeswoman Jocelyn Gerst said the company is taking steps to address the issues.

“Lafarge takes its environmental responsibility very seriously, including addressing legacy problems that existed long before the company’s ownership of the Ravena facility,” Gerst said. “The agreement marks the end of a multi-year process during which Lafarge fully cooperated and worked with environmental regulators in Albany and Washington, D.C., to address water management issues caused by management practices that pre-dated its ownership of the plant.”

The plant was owned by Lafarge Building Materials, Inc. until July 2015, according to James.

Lafarge S.A. and Holcim Ltd. announced the merger of the two companies July 10, 2015.

“This consent decree is a humbling reminder that we did not achieve our own expectations, for which we take full responsibility,” Gerst said. “We have worked closely with the state and federal government to take steps to ensure we are in continuous compliance, today and into the future.”

Coeymans Town Supervisor George McHugh thanked the state for reaching the settlement agreement.

“Their work has resulted in a cleaner, more effective operation at LafargeHolcim, and new protections for air and water resources relied on by everyone in Coeymans,” McHugh said.

The funds provided under the settlement agreement for an infrastructure project will be an improvement for Coeymans Landing Park, he added.

“The project will help reduce harmful runoff into the Hudson River, and further strengthen the environment in our community and our park, and protect the river as it flows through our community,” McHugh said.

Cindy Rowzee, Democratic candidate for town supervisor, who is challenging McHugh at the polls this November, said the settlement doesn’t go far enough.

“While we are grateful to DEC for holding Lafarge accountable, some residents have shared with us their concerns that the penalty does not go far enough to protect the community,” Rowzee said. “While the money will be helpful, past settlements have shown that the penalties from DEC have obviously not acted as a deterrent to local industries. The town portion of the settlement will be put to good use in improving the water runoff in the Coeymans Landing area and I am encouraged by the statement of Attorney General Letitia James and hope that the town will receive the grant to expand that project.”

Local property owner Barbara Heinzen called on state and federal authorities to continue holding the company accountable.

“Lafarge benefits from getting away with pollution and we need to continue to insist that Lafarge is a clean player in this town,” Heinzen said. “This is consistent with a pattern of pollution being commercially beneficial and publicly very damning.”

Environmental advocates in the region are applauding the state’s action.

“The river can’t protect itself, so when the state and the federal government join forces to protect the Hudson, we couldn’t be more grateful and we couldn’t be more proud of them,” John Lipscomb, vice president of advocacy for Riverkeeper, said Friday. “That’s the overarching message for our organization — the river can’t protect itself.”

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