Friday, November 30, 2012
Lead-acid battery recycling plant in Frisco closes after 48 years
Exide was accused of lead contamination.
FRISCO Today, Exide Technologies is closing its lead-acid battery recycling plant in Frisco after spending about 48 years in the city.
The news is both good and bad – depending on who’s discussing the matter. The closure could mean great things or dire consequences for the city. But these are the facts: With the plant’s closure, 120 people have lost their jobs, a large portion of whom are Frisco residents; at the same time, however, the closure will halt the contamination of land where the plant is located.
According to data released by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Exide exceeded federal standards for lead emission during a majority of months during the past year.
When a ground breaking for the Gould National Batteries plant was held on April 25, 1964, the new business addition was widely considered to be an economic boon for the city.
A large ceremony was held to celebrate the plant’s opening, with Frisco’s mayor, J.C. Grant, and the chairman of the Frisco Industrial Committee, Erwin G. Pink, taking part in a ceremonial first shovel dig with a representative from Gould National Batteries.
“Enthusiasm and community pride were quite evident in Frisco Saturday when ground was broken for a new oxide manufacturing plant,” a newspaper article shortly after the plant’s groundbreaking said. “… a large gathering of Frisco residents as well as Collin County dignitaries and visiting guests [were present at the ceremony].”
The plant initially employed about 15 people, although the plant slowly started to expand and employ more area residents.
At the time, Frisco was a small town that lacked the business development of the modern incarnation of the rapidly-growing city.
Frisco wasn’t the only North Texas town benefiting from the plant’s opening, either. A Lake Dallas construction company was a contractor for the construction of the plant.
For the most part, the first few decades of the plant’s operation were smooth. There was little concern about its operations, and the city appeared happy with its economic contributions.
It wasn’t until Frisco started growing that the plant’s emissions truly became a concern for residents.
The plant began a history of exceeding federal containment standards – including both air quality and lead contamination – in the early 1990s. These standards violations went largely unnoticed for years, however – well after Exide bought the plant from Gould National Batteries in 2000.
Lead-Free Frisco was founded in 2011 as “Get the Lead out of Frisco” in an attempt to force the plant to relocate.
At a public meeting on April 13, 2011, with Exide officials at the Embassy Suites in Frisco, Val Maso, a co-founder of Lead-Free Frisco, said the plant was ruining the city’s family atmosphere.
“We care about our children and we care about our families,” she said at the meeting. “No amount of lead emission is acceptable to me as a mother ... The only thing that is going to make us happy is for you to be gone. I don't get why you don't think it is in your best interests to move out of town … Lead is a neurotoxin and we don’t want poison in our dirt and in our air.”
That meeting was called by Exide officials, who said with new technology upgrades, the plant would meet the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards by November 2012.
While Lead-Free Frisco is overjoyed with Exide’s closure, other residents aren’t so happy.
Al Brewster, a longtime Frisco resident, said the loss of jobs in the city is unacceptable. Brewster spent 10 years as a vice president for Northrop Corporation, an experience that he said gives him a different perspective on the Exide situation.
“During that time, the company was expanding and building new plants in places other than California, which treated business terribly,” Brewster said. “I can assure you that the attitude of local government regarding business was a high priority on the selection list. With Frisco’s recent record, we would have rated it an ‘F’ in that area – don’t believe anyone who tells you there is no business impact in this decision.”
When the city announced its agreement to acquire much of the land around the plant with Exide, Brewster said he was shocked. The city was agreeing to get rid of a company that employed 134 area residents.
“I went through a series of emotions regarding the closure,” he said. “I was disgusted and disappointed with our elected officials, and I felt sorrow for all the Exide employees.”
One of the reasons Brewster was upset with the city’s decision was because Exide made attempts to rectify any state and federal violations, he said.
Last year, the company announced it would spend $20 million to improve the plant in an effort to reduce emissions.
“Have they not willingly been in the process of not only trying to upgrade the facilities, but also carry out decontamination work?” Brewster asked. “And my understanding is that will continue. So, the question really should be: Who is responsible for the lack of regulations – the government, or Exide? It’s certainly not the Frisco residents who have now lost their jobs.”
Brewster added that everyone has a right to their opinions, but he said he wishes people would have considered the impact it has on those who lost their jobs.
“I would ask people who support Exide’s closure, ‘What are you personally doing now to help the families you put on the street, to replace the income they lost?’” he said.
The economic impact
Tony Felker, president and CEO of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, said the closing of Exide will have both positive and negative ramifications for Frisco’s future.
“Anytime you have just one loss it’s an economic impact of some sort, but with 120 employees losing their jobs it definitely an economic impact on the city,” he said. “That’s why we, along with the Frisco [Economic Development Corporation] and community and regional partners, are doing all we can to make certain those individuals have found new jobs.”
Felker said the last figures he saw indicated roughly a half to two-thirds of the employees of the plant were Frisco residents, although he didn’t have an exact figure.
On November 7, the chamber held a job fair in coordination with the EDC and another workforce solutions group that helped several Exide employees looking for work. About 12 to 15 businesses were at that event, Felker said.
“I’ve talked to several of those companies, and they did have discussions with Exide employees, so at the very least there’s potential for them there,” he said.
The chamber and other organizations in the city still plan on helping former Exide plant employees find work, Felker added, although he noted much of that responsibility will be taken on by Exide.
Despite the impact of the closure on the plant’s employees, there will also be a positive economic impact for the city, Felker said.
“Part of the land will be used for commercial development, especially along the tollway. That will be a huge economic impact to the city in terms of potential development and tax base,” he said. “Other areas of the land will be used for the benefit of the community, which could be parks and open space or other city facilities. We’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out for what the full economic impact will be, but it has the potential to be substantial.”
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