GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Next year, the city of Glens Falls is set to lose one of the factories that operate along its southern edge on the Hudson River. It was announced last week that Lehigh Cement Co. would close its Glens Falls plant next year, after over 100 years in the city. The city didn’t have much advance notice.
“We found out, shortly before the information was released to the public, that Lehigh was going to close,” the city said in a statement to NEWS10 late last week. “We were shocked to find out Lehigh was closing since there were no signs from them that closing the plant was even an option.”
The plant’s departure is set to happen in phases across 2023. As it closes, that will mean the end of the job for the 85 full-time staff currently employed there as of 2022. Texas-based parent company Legigh Hanson, Inc., has announced plans to help those workers find new employment. The city of Glens Falls wants to be part of that conversation.
“(Mayor Bill Collins) would like to meet with Lehigh to find out what their plans are for the employees that will be affected by the closure, and how the city can be another source of support for those employees,” the city said. “Mayor Collins would also like to find out what the plans are regarding the facility’s future and the impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”
That neighborhood consists primarily of parts of eastern Glens Falls north of Warren Street, along Peck and Haskell avenues to name a few. It also includes East Field Park, as well as various Warren Street businesses. In addition to employment, the loss of the factory also represents the loss of tax revenues for Glens Falls, Queensbury, and Glens Falls City School District.
In the air
At the other end of the conversation, Lehigh Cement is one of several industrial businesses to operate in the Glens Falls and Queensbury areas. The Clean Air Action Network of Glens Falls has kept a close eye on the facility, which it calls a top emittor of greenhouse gases in the industrial plants in the surrounding region.
“Lehigh Cement releases hundreds of thousands of pounds of serious air pollutants per year,” GFCAAN Chair tracy Frisch said in a statement on Monday. “They can affect breathing, and cause or worsen lung disease and asthma and have serious cardiovascular effects. These pollutants include ammonia, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and fine particulate matter. Lehigh Cement also releases much smaller amounts of heavy metals and other harmful substances.”
The CAAN says that the main issues with Lehigh include the amount of fossil fuel utilized in the production of cement, and the use of limestone, which releases carbon dioxide when exposed to high temperatures. The network also cited Finch Paper and the Hudson Falls trash incinerator as high pollutors.
Pollution is, of course, not local to the Glens Falls plant. In late 2019, Lehigh Cement reached a settlement with the EPA over alleged violations to the Clean Air Act across 14 of the company’s kilns, including in New York. Lehigh was accused of failing to obtain pre-construction permits, and install nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide control technology across several locations. The EPA originally called for modifications to plants in Evansville, Pennsylavia; Mitchell, Indiana; and Cupertino, California.
The settlement was reached with Lehigh agreeing to invest in emission-cutting technologies across its plants; pursue an environmental mitigation plan at two facilities; and pay a $1.3 million civil penalty. The settlement aimed to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 4,500 tons per year, and sulfur dioxide by just under 1,000 tons per year.
Glens Falls resides in Warren County, which the EPA reported as releasing 138.6 thousand pounds of airborne emissions per year, as of 2018 data presented in a 2021 national analysis report. In that same report, Lehigh Cement is ranked as the third-largest pollutor in the county, behind Finch Paper and Ames Goldsmith Corp.
“It is our hope that a new, less polluting process for making cement will be perfected and
commercialized in the not too distant future,” said Frisch. “Cement production is responsible for 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. If such a new process makes use of limestone, Glens Falls could be an ideal location for such a production facility.”
The CAAN also acknowledged the impact, regardless of pollutants or air quality statistics, for the 85 people who are employed at Lehigh. For them, the future may not yet be certain.
That uncertainty isn’t total, though. Warren County has made a push to increase employment awareness around the region in 2022, in part due to staffing gaps across various industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the county hosted its first in-person job fair since the outset of the pandemic, drawing a small crowd to hear from around eight main employers. Larger job fairs are planned into the new year.