Lehigh cement firm plans $180 million construction Managers pledge to avoid laying off employees

no new jobs at plant expected

February 02, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

A $180 million expansion and modernization planned for Lehigh Portland Cement Co.'s Union Bridge plant is likely to bring construction jobs to Carroll, along with additional trucking jobs and rail traffic.

The project will increase the plant's production capacity by 50 percent, from 1 million tons a year to 1.5 million. The Allentown, Pa., company, a subsidiary of Heidelberger Zement AG of Germany, hopes to break ground on the Union Bridge plant project in 1997 and open it in 1999.

Company officials say they don't expect the changes to generate additional jobs, and they have pledged that any job losses will be through attrition rather than layoffs. The plant employs 200 workers.

The expansion and modernization is "the largest single project our group has undertaken in North America," said Richard D. Kline, president and chief operating officer of Lehigh.

Lehigh's project, announced at news conferences yesterday in Annapolis and Union Bridge, carried no tax breaks or other economic incentives, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening pledged to speed the state review and permit process.

Mr. Kline said Lehigh is not asking Maryland to waive environmental rules. A company statement said Lehigh "expects to comply fully with all environmental regulations."

The first question in union members' minds is, "Does that state-of-the-art [technology] mean I'm going to be out of a job?" said Ernest R. Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council, AFL-CIO Unions. He said it was good to hear that the company will not lay off workers because of the technological change.

Lehigh workers are represented by the United Paperworkers International Union, an AFL-CIO union.

David H. Roush, Union Bridge plant manager, said it is difficult to project staffing needs this early in the process, but he added, "It is our expectation that there will not be an increase in staffing. We've made a commitment that there will not be layoffs."

Mr. Roush said the 50 percent increase in production will mean more hauling jobs for truckers and more business for rail lines.

Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones sees spinoff benefits for the town's economy. Contractors working at Lehigh will stop at the local grocery store, pizzeria and gas station, he said. "I think it will be a help to almost every business in town," he added.

The modernization will replace four aging rotary kilns with a single modern kiln. The company will build new grinding mills and buildings where the raw material is blended and stored.

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