Tensions run high at first public meeting on Exide plant demolition
Exide’s lead-acid battery plant in Frisco has long been a contentious issue in the city, and Wednesday night’s public meeting regarding the decontamination and demolition of the plant was no exception.
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Neither Exide officials nor meeting attendees appeared happy with the outcome of the meeting, which became hostile within the first few minutes.
David McKercher, the plant’s manager, announced he and colleague Vanessa Coleman, an environmental manager, would answer individual questions on a one-on-one basis following a presentation but would not answer questions in front of the entire audience. That decision left many audience members unhappy — so unhappy that several began interrupting the presentation.
Two citizen groups committed to the plant’s closure — Frisco Unleaded and Downwinders at Risk — were represented at the meeting and took issue with lack of an open forum.
Jim Schermbeck, director of Downwinders at Risk, voiced his opposition almost immediately after McKercher announced the discussion guidelines.
“Why won’t everybody get to ask the same question and hear the same answer?” he said. “That’s what everybody really came here to listen to — we want to hear the same answer to our questions.”
Despite the clear frustration from many of those in attendance, McKercher proceeded with his 20-minute presentation to the audience of about 40 people, although it was still interrupted a handful of additional times.
During his presentation, McKercher said an important aspect to consider regarding the deconstruction is the fact that wrecking balls and explosives would not be used. Instead, he said, Exide and its contractors are working to ensure the plant, which closed Nov. 30 after 48 years in the city, is demolished in a manner that won’t impact residents.
“How are the structures going to be removed with [the] minimum [spread of] dust possible?” McKercher asked rhetorically. “Well, we’re using hydraulic shears that will cut the facility down piece by piece. While we’re doing that, we’ll be [spraying water] to keep dust from spreading.”
McKercher added that the demolition wouldn’t “look like Texas Stadium coming down,” but that buildings would be disassembled one at a time after hazardous materials were removed.
Following the demolition of buildings, the plant’s smokestacks will be carefully removed, he said.
“When we get to the stacks, they’re not going to be just knocked down,” McKercher said. “They’ll be removed with a crane and set down so there’s [no spread of dust].”
When that process is finished, the only buildings that will remain are the site’s water treatment plant — which will continue to be used to provide clean water throughout the demolition process — and administration building.
Demolition is tentatively scheduled to be completed by March 1 — “you won’t see anything; there will be nothing left,” McKercher said — after which, land surrounding the site will be cleaned to levels compliant with federal standards. To ensure those standards are met, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will oversee the cleanup.
The 180 acres of land that the city acquired through a $45 million agreement with Exide will be remediated following the demolition, with May 1 being the tentative start date for the remediation.
One area where McKercher couldn’t provide an answer was what would happen to the site’s landfill, which residents were concerned would remain on the site forever and potentially spread and contaminate more land in the future.
An area resident who requested not to be named questioned whether Exide was being forthright with all the information it was providing the public.
“My main concern is what’s going in the landfill,” he said. “What is the volume of the landfill? How much [waste] is in the landfill? Are you going to share that information at a later date?”
A flyer disseminated by Schermbeck prior to the meeting also questioned what would happen to the landfill.
That flyer states the Dixie Lead Smelter site in South Dallas, formerly owned by Exide, “contains an abandoned landfill surrounded by a chain link fence, warning signs and groundwater monitoring wells — exactly what the company is proposing for Frisco. The site has sat empty for 20 years.”
In addition to the landfill questions, several audience members asked if the demolition could be done during non-school hours. Audience members expressed concern with the spread of dust to Frisco High School, which is located less than a mile north of the Exide plant.
After the meeting, Schermbeck said the decision to only answer questions in private was a move designed to appease the audience through misdirection.
“It’s an old public relations trick that you divide the audience up and talk to them one-on-one so you can give the answer you want to hear,” he said. “In a collective question-and-answer period, everyone hears the same question and answer. It’s just a lot better way to convey information.”
Schermbeck added that most of the answers given weren’t able to properly address what he said were more important concerns, such as what would happen to the landfill.
“The real concern isn’t the demolition, it’s what’s being left behind,” he said. “That’s going to be a black hole in the middle of Frisco that never gets used. If you leave [the landfill] in place, it becomes a constant source of contamination to things like groundwater.”
Though Schermbeck and the majority of the audience appeared to be unhappy with the outcome of the meeting, several attendees thanked McKercher after the meeting and said they were satisfied with the answers given.
McKercher urged any residents who had additional questions to use the website created by Exide to update the public on the demolition and cleanup status.
“Please give us input — please submit questions,” he told the audience. “I don’t want people not knowing what’s going on at the site. The [demolition] plans are posted at the website. We really welcome the input from the community.”
For more information about the Exide plant’s demolition or to submit a question, visit www.exide.com/frisco.