Cementing a Deal

A giant quarry and the world's largest cement kiln are being welcomed by Ste. Genevieve County. But the operation may leave St. Louis gasping for air.

On Dec. 21 -- the same day Holnam publicly announced its plans to move forward with the project -- EPA informed the Corps "that an EIS should be prepared for a project of this magnitude. EPA believes that existing environmental analysis is not sufficient for a project of this scale.... We believe the project should be systematically analyzed through the procedural framework afforded by the National Environmental Policy Act."

"An EIS is supposed to look at all the environmental impacts, whether they're federally listed or state-listed or not listed at all, because the whole idea is that you understand the totality of the consequences of your decision before you make the decision," Lipeles says.

"Once you've got a gap in the ecosystem, once these species are gone, we don't know what kind of consequences are going to flow from that," adds Homeyer. "What's going to happen to us in industrialized countries when we start losing birds? Birds eat insects. Insects feed on trees. If you lose the birds, there isn't anything to stop those insects. The forests are gone."

Jack Geiler worries that the Holnam plant will spell big changes in the county where he was born nearly 76 years ago.
Mark Gilliland
Jack Geiler worries that the Holnam plant will spell big changes in the county where he was born nearly 76 years ago.
Maxine Lipeles, lawyer and director of Washington University's Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic: "The big picture is, there are 4,000 acres of basically undisturbed property. It's rich habitat, and it's spectacular."
Mark Gilliland
Maxine Lipeles, lawyer and director of Washington University's Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic: "The big picture is, there are 4,000 acres of basically undisturbed property. It's rich habitat, and it's spectacular."

In its public comments to the Corps, dated Jan. 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summed up its opposition this way: "The proposed site consists of a large contiguous tract, with wetlands, caves, large river, streams, hollows, ravines and glades. The proposed project would convert these relatively undisturbed areas into heavy industry. The proposed project will have irreversible impacts on these habitats and the plant and animal species that utilize them. We believe that the proposed mitigation is inadequate, especially for the aquatic and upland habitat. Therefore, we recommend that the Corps deny the project as proposed."

Homeyer compares Missouri's circumstances in this situation to that of a Third World country: "I used to live in Nicaragua, and I've seen how these companies come in and use up resources -- they don't pension out their workers, they just get up and leave. You're talking about a foreign company that's going to take the profits out of the U.S. back to Switzerland. That's all Holnam is here for. It's a U.S. subsidiary to ship the profits back to Switzerland. They're going to create, at most, 200 full-time jobs, and for that we're going to have dirty air, ruined habitat and loss of wildlife. I don't see how anybody can get excited about this except Holnam. Who else serves to gain except Holnam? Where is the benefit to Missouri? I don't even see it on paper."


On the high end of Brickeys Hollow, where the scree begins to peter out, four turkeys dart across the road into a stand of scrub oaks. Geiler slows his pickup to take a gander at the birds, his gnarled hands gripping the steering wheel. He stares in silence for a moment and then drives slowly away, the muffled sound of gravel churning under the snow as his truck's tires roll along the rutted path.

Geiler was born in Ste. Genevieve County and moved up to Jefferson County about 30 years ago. After he retired from Pittsburgh Plate Glass in Crystal City, he went into selling real estate. He held onto his license up until last year. So he knows something about land dealing, speculating. He's seen plenty of tracts parceled out and subdivided, the timber cut down to the nub. But it never pleased him much to see a big tree felled; he did his best to keep it standing if he could. Geiler is widowed now, and sometimes when he's out there driving on Highway 61, he gets to thinking about old times, about the roadhouses and the dance halls and the general store that used to keep a couple of black bears penned up out back to attract the tourist trade, places that aren't around anymore. And then his thoughts turn to the kind of world his grandkids will know, when they get grown and he's no longer here. He thinks of the future and the past and the thin line that splits the two like the stripe in the middle of the road.

"I've been a hunter all my life," says Geiler. "I've hunted all this ground where the plant's going to be. I've been over it all. I know what it is. It's beautiful land. Most of it's still virgin timber, never been harvested. That's what I hate worst, seeing virgin timber and hills tore up. I think anybody who likes the outdoors and hunts and fishes, they all feel the same way. A lot of these big oaks, they're 150 years old. You bulldoze them out, and there's no generation going to grow up to see a tree that big.

"Still, you've got to have that stuff. I don't know what this cement plant is going to do for the area around here. I'm sure you're going to have a lot of local people go to work there, but you're still going to have a certain amount of outsiders come in. It will probably build up. It'll make a big change in the area, I'm pretty sure. Like I say, it's just something in modern times -- changing. I guess we got to live with it."

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