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Cemex’s Cement Plant on June 13, 2022, near Lyons. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Lyons will get another month to consider a proposed megadeal for open space and operating permits after town officials said they were excluded from talks on the deal between Boulder County and owners of the sprawling Cemex cement and mining complex, and were being rushed to endorse it. 

Boulder County Attorney Ben Pearlman said Thursday the county planning commission will review the deal in August instead of this month’s meeting, and that Lyons couldn’t be included in talks because Cemex would negotiate only with county agencies. 

The extra month was less than the extension to Oct. 31 that Lyons asked for, Mayor Hollie Rogin said. 

“They asked us for a referral, which is the formal yes or no to the proposal,” Rogin said. “That’s not a conversation. And our stance is that we should have been involved in the negotiations.”

A 2012 intergovernmental agreement between Boulder County and Lyons gives the town the right to annex 120 acres on the cement kiln site for municipal uses such as water treatment, a solar array for clean energy generation, or other needs, Rogin said. That alone meant Lyons should have been included in talks with Cemex that will impact thousands of acres surrounding Lyons for decades to come, she said. 

Meanwhile, the deal already endorsed by Boulder County Parks and Open Space would allow the cement kiln, which is powered by coal and pumps out more than 350,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, to operate with no new restrictions until 2037.

Lyons, constricted by the foothills and county open space, can only grow to the east, toward and beyond the Cemex kiln and mine complex, Rogin said. The town is in the middle of creating a new 10-year comprehensive plan. 

“If they mined for another 15 years, and then started reclamation, which will take another three years, that’s 18 years,” before Lyons can begin altering the site, Rogin said. The closest residents to the kiln’s pollution are lower income mobile home renters, she added, and would be the primary targets of pollutants that whole time. 

“From an environmental justice standpoint, the only affordable place to live is Shady Lane mobile home park, and this happens all over the country. The poorest people live near the biggest polluters,” she said.

Boulder County has been negotiating with Cemex for months on their proposal. Cemex wants a renewed mining permit for its rock quarry to the north of State Highway 66 to run through 2037. They would agree to shut down the cement kiln on the south, which in theory could run indefinitely, at the same time mining ends. 

this is the correct version updated by BoCo June 2022
A proposed agreement between Boulder County and Cemex would allow the mining and cement company to continue operations through 2037, in exchange for Cemex giving Boulder valuable open space. (Boulder County Parks and Open Space handout)

In exchange, Boulder County would receive 1,800 acres of surrounding open space, much of it for free, and higher Cemex lease payments on county land the company uses. The open space would stitch together already popular areas like Rabbit Mountain and Heil Valley Ranch, and provide a corridor for a recreation path along the St. Vrain Creek through the area. 

The county will have assurances that Cemex will close and reclaim the cement kiln property after the proposed 2037 shutdown of the kiln/mine combo, despite worries from Lyons neighbors that another operator could use the blast furnace, Pearlman said. The primary kiln property would retain industrial zoning, Pearlman said, noting that everyone considering the proposal over the next few months should keep that in mind when debating the value of surrounding open space. 

Neighbor groups say they know of an asphalt company with a permit to build in the county that they fear might use the industrial space.

A Cemex spokesman said late Thursday the company was aware the planning department was giving Lyons and others more time to review the deal and comment on it. “It is an important matter for CEMEX and the community, and we look forward to reviewing the comments submitted by these stakeholders,” spokesman Walker Robinson wrote, in an email. 

Cemex did not respond to requests for comment about the negotiations.

Cemex does have the right under state air pollution permitting to keep operating the kiln, and its annual carbon dioxide and other emissions, indefinitely, even if the 2022 end date of its nearby mining permit is not extended, Pearlman said. County residents who want a quicker end to the coal burning could try to call the company’s bluff that the kiln would continue operating even if the mine permit is not extended, but “it’s a risk,” he said. 

Boulder County has good relations with Lyons, Pearlman said, and has been keeping the town’s interests in mind in talking about the 120 acres for municipal uses.

“The reason that we negotiated for the option on that property was because we wanted to be helpful to the town and get control over the property so that they didn’t have to acquire it separately from Cemex,” Pearlman said. 

The planning commission’s staff is analyzing the proposal, which was “referred” or endorsed by the open space division. After the planning commission takes up the proposal in August, the county commissioners will then have a public comment and voting process. 

The Lyons town board will keep meeting in the meantime, Rogin said. Neither the proposed deal, or rejecting a mining extension outright in hopes the cement plant goes away, may be the best route.“We think both of the options presented have risks,” Rogin said, “We are working on a third option where we believe everyone can win and would like the opportunity to present it.”