Irish firm’s contentious cement mill plan in California at risk

Officials threaten to declare plan abandoned over Ecocem partner’s ‘lack of co-operation’

Ecocem’s reputation is built on the fact it makes ‘green’ cement. Photograph: David Sleator

Ecocem’s reputation is built on the fact it makes ‘green’ cement. Photograph: David Sleator


Lack of co-operation from Irish manufacturer Ecocem’s partner in a planned €45 million cement mill in California prompted officials to threaten to declare the project abandoned.

Ecocem’s subsidiary Orcem Americas is seeking permission to build a “green” cement mill in Vallejo, in San Francisco Bay, California, at a cost of €45 million, despite opposition from locals who fear its impact on the environment.

A recent letter from the Californian city’s assistant attorney, Shannon Eckmeyer, to Orcem and its partner, Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT), states that officials have determined that the planning application for the project has been “abandoned”.

She adds that Vallejo city staff intend to recommend denying an appeal against a decision by planners to reject the project on the grounds that it would have a negative impact on its neighbourhood, cause traffic problems and was inconsistent with development policy.

Local reports say that Vallejo city council has yet to formally declare the Orcem-VMT project abandoned.

Orcem intends building a plant that will grind slag from iron furnaces to make cement, a process it says results in 90 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than normal manufacture of the building material.

Marine terminal

VMT plans to build a marine terminal where ships carrying the slag from Asia can dock and offload.

Ms Eckmeyer states that VMT failed to provide the local council with information on land ownership at the facility’s proposed waterfront site detailing which portion of the property belongs to the city of Vallejo and which to the company.

She also points out that neither VMT nor Orcem signed a reimbursement agreement needed to complete an environmental justice analysis, which assesses how projects hit poorer communities, and to release funds for this.

However, Orcem Americas president, Steve Bryan, questioned why Vallejo council was challenging VMT’s ownership of the site.

“Seven years into the process the city suddenly does not accept that VMT owns the property the project is on,” he told the Vallejo Times Herald.

Ms Eckmeyer’s letter says that without the information, Vallejo cannot finalise an environmental report needed for approval under California environmental law.

“Without clarity or co-operation from VMT, the city has now determined that the VMT/Orcem project application has been abandoned,” she says.

A meeting scheduled for April 9th to allow the sides to discuss the issues failed to take place.

‘Minimal’ responses

Ms Eckmeyer states that the city attempted to communicate with Orcem and VMT numerous times but received “minimal” responses.

Orcem has always maintained that it exceeded planning law requirements, including by paying for an environmental justice analysis, which it was not required to do.

The company says the project could employ at least 190 people in pensionable, unionised jobs, the number of which are declining in Vallejo, it argues.

Ecocem’s reputation is built on the fact it makes “green” cement. The group recently proposed restructuring its capital to allow it to pay a dividend of up to €5 million to backers, who include financier Dermot Desmond.

Ecocem Materials Ltd earned profits of €2.5 million in 2017 on sales of €79.4 million. The company, which has its headquarters in Dublin, has businesses in Britain, France and the Netherlands.