Rezoning for asphalt piles opposed; health, environmental concerns cited
By SCOTT MILLER
The debate over Fred Weber Inc.'s growing asphalt pile thickened last week during a public hearing that had Oak-ville residents blaming the company for medical and environmental problems in the area.
About 65 people traveled to Clayton hoping to influence the county Planning Commission's opinion on rezoning a tract southwest of Heintz Road on Baumgartner Road, where Weber operates. If rezoned, the company may continue to pile and recycle asphalt at the company's south quarry location.
Of those attending the hearing, 53 opposed the rezoning, while 12 supported it. The commission will file its official opinion on Nov. 8 with the County Council, which casts the binding vote.
Before the Weber hearing, the commission also heard comments regarding Lawless Home Inc.'s request to build 50 homes ranging in price from $250,000 to $400,000 across from Cambridge Pointe Subdivision on Heintz Road.
Residents of the subdivision likened that part of Heintz Road to a NASCAR speedway with dangerously fast traffic, no turn lanes and no sidewalks. They worried another subdivision would expand that problem as well as add more congestion.
On Weber's south quarry stockpiles, many residents showed concern over a potential trash-transfer station, but Planning Commission Chairman Doug Morgan insisted Weber's rezoning request had nothing to do with the station — it only addresses the asphalt.
Nonetheless, many residents of the adjacent Cambridge Point subdivision say the piles release harmful toxins into the environment and the air they breathe. The residents want the piles moved as far away as possible.
Weber illegally is piling the asphalt at the site based on the land's zoning status, according to county allegations. Roger Gagliano, Weber's vice president of operations, wants the zoning changed from Non-Urban and Flood Plain Non-Urban districts to M-3 Planned Industrial District and FPM-3 Flood Plain Planned Industrial District so the company can continue to use the nearly 23-acre site to store and recycle asphalt.
If denied, Gary Feder, an attorney representing Weber, said the asphalt piles would move to adjacent land that allows such an operation. That land, he said, actually is closer to the Oakville residents who want the piles removed.
"We believe that physically moving the pile would not only be time consuming and costly to Weber, but also result in a location that would be far less desirable for current residents of the adjoining Cambridge Point subdivision,"
said Feder of Husch & Eppenberger. "We simply want to make the point that as we un-derstand it, the issue tonight is not whether the stockpile that you see will remain in the quarry or leave the quarry, it is simply a question of where in the quarry site it will be located."
Gagliano told the commission, "If we're required to move the outdoor stockpile, where is it going to go? If we move this it's going to be moved ... just 75 feet away. The impact to the Cambridge Point development, the subdivision near the west side, will be crushing, stockpiling materials of refined asphalt (closer to their homes), (and) height of stockpiles from the 70- to 80-foot range (rather than 60 feet), and we just don't think that's right.
"We've tried hard to be a good neighbor," he continued. "(If moved), when we're crushing and we're handling material off that pile, that noise and those visual impacts are going to be closer to the neighbors and that's why we feel it's just not in the best interest of us trying to be a good neighbor."
Lester Stuckmeyer, an attorney representing Cambridge Pointe residents, said, "They use the threat they're going to build the monster pile out there. Let them build the monster pile out there. Let them comply with the law before we excuse the noncompliance."
In addition, Weber representatives contend they are not seeking a rezoning change for a trash-transfer station, but Stuckmeyer argued, "M-3 would be a permitted zoning for them to seek that permit (to construct the transfer station). I'm not saying this would allow them to do that. I'm just saying this would be one hurdle that would be out of their way."
The county Department of Health previously denied Weber's request for a permit to build the trash-transfer station because the south quarry does not meet the appropriate zoning regulations to operate the station.
Health also was a concern of residents attending the hearing.
Again speaking for the Cambridge residents, Stuckmeyer said, "Those stockpiles have been in flood water. Floodwater is contaminated. The next flood will spread that contamination."
"Medical scientists are beginning to become more and more alarmed by a steady stream of published reports that document that airborne particulates increase asthma and respiratory illnesses, particular in the elderly and the children," said Daniel Mc-Keel, an associate professor of pathology and immunology at the Washington Univer-sity School of Medicine.
"The latest alarming study was reported in Science (magazine)," McKeel said. "That study showed that mice exposed to asphalt particulates developed genetic damage to their DNA that was passed along to their offspring. The possibility that particulates might be causing permanent damage to DNA in people is disturbing to knowledgeable scientists and should be to you as well. Please factor in these serious medical harms. The medical facts speak strongly to moving this asphalt to a safer area away from residences and off a flowing creek."
While Weber officials said they would simply move the pile closer to residents, County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, told the commission, "The issue before you today, I think, is not to move the pile but to get rid of it all together."
He is concerned with the piles being with-in 1,000 feet of the Meramec River Green-way.
Along with Campisi, Julie Leicht, the Democrat challenging Campisi for the 6th District council seat, Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, and Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, asked the panel to reject Weber's proposal, citing overwhelming constituent opposition.
In response to audience criticism, Feder told the commission, "Those piles have been there for 30 years. It is not by coincidence that for 29 years nothing was said about it ... There are many opportunities here to strike out at Fred Weber. I think this is the outgrowth of a dispute about the trash-transfer station. I'm very familiar with it. I argued for it. But this is not about a trash-transfer station. It is about a very simple matter, the rezoning of this land to avoid a result I think would be very negative."
Regarding health aspects, Feder said Weber had hired Air Control Techniques of North Carolina and the company found no air-quality issues directly connected to Fred Weber's operations.
"There has been a study of air quality at the site. We had an expert in air pollution prepare a study, the results of which were sent to St. Louis County, to your (the planning commission's) staff. We were not asked to do these studies. We were of no obligation to do these studies. The results of these tests conclusively demonstrate that the storage piles had very low emissions and comply with all applicable county, state and federal air emission regulations. It demonstrates that the sources tested have insignificant impact on air quality in areas surrounding the plant,'' he said.
Residents would like an independent study, however.
The commission will make a recommendation on the matter at 6 p.m. Nov. 8 in Clayton, Morgan said. No testimony will be taken at the public meeting.