Suit delays tire-burning project

February 18, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

A patent-infringement lawsuit against Lehigh Portland Cement Co. will delay "indefinitely" the cement company's plans to burn tires for fuel at its Union Bridge plant.

And that leaves the Carroll County government wondering what to do with about 120,000 waste tires it will collect this year that it had expected to have burned at the Lehigh plant.

Cadence Environmental Energy and Ashgrove Cement filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Indiana in late December, Lehigh's Union Bridge plant manager David H. Roush said yesterday. Ashgrove is based in Indiana, he said.

"They're claiming that processes and equipment being designed and built by Lehigh for purposes of burning tires at Union Bridge are an infringement on certain patents that Cadence and Ashgrove own," Mr. Roush said.

As part of the suit, Cadence has filed for an injunction to stop Lehigh from designing and installing its tire-burning equipment, Mr. Roush said. Lehigh had expected to begin taking about 2.5 million tires a year from Carroll County and around the state in March.

"I've got to say the [tire-burning] delay is indefinite at this point," he said. "With legal matters, you never know when it's going to be over."

Mr. Roush said Lehigh engineers designing its equipment at company headquarters in Allentown, Pa., were aware of Cadence and Ashgrove's patents and took great care not to infringe them.

"We're going to court and defend ourselves vigorously," Mr. Roush said. "We expect that, ultimately, the suit will be dismissed. But it will cause a delay in our starting burning tires and therefore being able to take tires from the community."

Lehigh applied in 1992 for state permission to burn tires to provide about 20 percent of its fuel needs. Since Jan. 1, state law has forbidden landfills from burying tires.

After an unprecedented agreement between the cement plant and local environmental forces, Lehigh received permission from the state Department of the Environment in August to burn the tires.

Essroc Materials Inc. -- a cement company in Lime Kiln, Frederick County, and the only other Maryland business burning tires -- got its equipment through Cadence and Ashgrove, Mr. Roush said.

The delay puts the county government -- which had expected to dispose of about 100 tons of tires a month at Lehigh -- in a bad position, officials said yesterday. Carroll landfills collect about 120,000 tires a year, which Lehigh would have taken without charge, they said.

"These tires are piling up severely" at the Northern Landfill, said Department of Public Works Director Keith R. Kirschnick. The cost of disposal "is not reflected in the budget this year or next year."

Although the state had promised to find tire disposal sites for counties after outlawing burial, its list of 13 suggestions is practically useless, Mr. Kirschnick said.

"The first six are out [not accepting tires], and I've got two calls waiting," said Jack Curran, the county public works special projects coordinator. "The other three or four are for out-of-state disposal."

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