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DEP inquiry of road builder energizes cement plant foes

Opponents of a controversial plant say the state investigation shows the builder cannot be trusted.

A road paver involved in a controversial North Florida cement plant is under investigation for possible environmental violations in a separate project, spurring opponents to call for a halt in construction of the factory.

Environmentalists opposed to the cement plant contend that a separate probe by the state Department of Environmental Protection into a road project by Anderson Columbia in Milton, in the Panhandle, shows the company won't clean up its environmental performance.

The DEP initially denied the permit for the cement factory near the Ichetucknee River, citing concerns about Anderson Columbia's poor environmental record in the past.

But the agency later worked out a deal to buy and shut down a nearby rock mine, which it said was a bigger threat to the river, and take over a sensitive Panhandle site in exchange for letting the cement plant operate.

Anderson Columbia promised that the cement plant would be clean and said it would clean up its environmental record in general.

But the Tampa Tribune reported Tuesday that the DEP has begun a criminal investigation into the company for possible violations of water quality standards at the Milton road-building site.

Anderson Columbia spokesman Jim McClellan confirmed Tuesday that the company was warned by the DEP in June that it may be violating the requirements of an environmental permit. The agency was concerned about inadequate erosion controls and the muddying of a nearby lake in violation of water quality standards.

But McClellan said the company was working under the terms of its contract with the state Department of Transportation and has been told by that agency that its environmental controls are satisfactory. "The DOT people . . . are saying everything is okay," McClellan said.

DEP spokeswoman Lucia Ross confirmed Tuesday that an investigation was under way but characterized it as a regulatory rather than criminal investigation.

DEP officials say the company has complied with terms of the settlement to clean up an area near the Blackwater River in the Panhandle and to add emissions control devices to the planned Suwannee County plant.

Plant opponents said the new investigation shows Anderson Columbia hasn't corrected its environmental problems.

"This is a major breach of contract and a breach of public trust," said Patrice Boyes, a Gainesville attorney representing environmentalists.