The state is proposing to fine a cement manufacturer $20,000 for visible smokestack emissions at its Union Bridge plant and is ordering the closing of the kiln where the violations occurred.
Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said his agency notified the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. of the proposed order and fine in a letter Monday.
Sullivan said the fine covered 25 documented violations, dating to Feb. 21, of the state law against emissions that are visible because of particulate matter escaping into the air. State inspectors reported five of the violations and the company self-reported 20, he said.
The proposed fine against Lehigh comes as the company awaits a state decision on an application to burn carbon filter material from a New Jersey chemical plant. The company's plan has met with vocal opposition from some residents.
Sullivan said the state was still considering the application.
Lehigh has 10 days to request an informal meeting with state officials to discuss the proposed fine. Beyond that, the company may appeal in a hearing before an administrative law judge.
The fine and order may be modified at either the meeting or the hearing, Sullivan said. If the company fails to make a written response to the proposed action within 10 days, the state's proposed fine and order will go into effect.
"We will definitely be appealing," said John Jones, an assistant plant manager at the Union Bridge facility. The company is still formulating its argument. One point of contention might be "some discrepancies in the record-keeping," Jones said, such as an overlap between the state and company-reported violations.
Also, the company has made repairs that have brought the troublesome kiln "to the point of compliance" in recent weeks, he said, adding that a further overhaul was planned.
That kiln started operation in 1972, Jones said, and is the newest of four kilns at the plant. The violations occurred after unsuccessful maintenance work on the kiln over the winter, he said.
State law requires the company to report emissions violations as they occur. Previously, the company reported about 10 to 15 violations over the course of a year without being fined, Jones said.
Sullivan said that companies that report sporadic emissions and appear to be working to correct them "don't always get fines or penalties."
The violations that drew proposed fines this year were clustered between Feb. 21 and March 24, Sullivan said. Some of the violations occurred five days in a row, he said. "You're talking whole work weeks," he said.