Flip-flopping on a land-use decision involving a Speed, Ind., cement plant could end up costing Clark County, Ind., $1.5 million, reported The Courier-Journal.

Lehigh Hanson, Inc. said it stands to lose at least $1.5 million if it is not allowed to burn waste as fuel for its kilns, according to a tort claim notice – the first step in a potential lawsuit. The company took over the plant last fall from Essroc after its parent company HeidelbergCement acquired Essroc’s parent company Italcementi.

Lawyers for Lehigh Hanson asserted in the tort claim notice that a reversal of a favorable zoning determination amounted to "an intentional act in excess of any statutory authority." The company counts in excess of $1.5 million spent on planning, designing and permitting for the proposed fuel project, wrote attorney C. Gregory Fifer, representing the company, in a recent letter to the Clark County Plan Commission.

The cost of coal delivered to the Speed plant is $90 a ton, compared to the cost of obtaining the hazardous waste, at $25 per ton. If a lawsuit is filed, Fifer wrote that the company would seek the $1.5 million "as well as its lost opportunity for fuel reduction costs."

At issue are two contradictory letters from county zoning officials. The first one, dated Jan. 26, 2015, concluded Essroc would be allowed to burn the waste as fuel in a cement kiln without having to get its property rezoned as a special hazardous waste disposal district. Then amid a public outcry from residents concerned about the transportation and burning of hazardous waste, a second letter dated July 27, 2016, from Commission President Jack Coffman and a different planning administrator, reversed the 2015 decision.

The county officials cited in the reversal that company correspondence from 2014 stated that Essroc did not intend to construct or operate any facilities for the storage or recycling of hazardous materials. However, the company was seeking a permit for hazardous waste storage from Indiana regulators, the officials noted.

In 1993, after an earlier proposal to burn hazardous waste at the plant, Clark County commissioners banned the practice within a mile of homes or businesses – excluding nearly all of the county.

Company and county officials in 2015 were in agreement that since the waste was to be used as fuel, no zoning change was needed. After the county reversed itself, the company filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that decision in a case that's still being heard in a Floyd County court.

R. Scott Lewis, the attorney who represents the Clark County Commission, said county officials turned the tort notice over to their insurance carrier for potential resolution and declined further comment.

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