By APRILE RICKERT
News and Tribune
SELLERSBURG, IN (NEWS AND TRIBUNE) - The Lehigh Hanson Speed cement plant is expected to cease production in about four years, at the completion of a project to modernize the company's Mitchell facility.
Although early in the process, this is also expected to mean a loss of around 100 jobs at the Speed plant once the Mitchell plant is finished. Half of the lost jobs, though, could be realized by the new facility, said Jeff Sieg, director of corporate communications with Lehigh Hanson.
On Wednesday, the company announced plans for the $600 million project, which is expected to increase production capacity while making the process more efficient and sustainable. When it's complete, cement production at Speed will be transitioned to Mitchell, but the Clark County facility will remain as a distribution center.
Currently, the Speed plant produces around 1 million tons of cement a year; Mitchell generates around 700,000 tons. The new facility will have a capacity of about 2.8 million tons.
"It will give us three times the capacity of the current Mitchell plant," Sieg said. "And we'll be able to produce it in a much more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way.
"So it's a huge economic impact to the state of Indiana and the city of Mitchell," he said.
The Speed site currently employs around 170 people, Mitchell 120 and Logansport 90. The change in production will likely mean a decrease of around 100 jobs at Speed and an added 50 at Mitchell. Jobs at the new facility would likely fall under plant maintenance and operations, purchasing, quarry equipment operators, electricians, welders, millwrights and other skilled trades. Construction over the project timeline will employ around 1,000.
Sieg said the company will assist qualified and interested employees to relocate to Mitchell -- about a 50 miles northwest of Sellersburg.
"And for those who choose not to do it, we are going to treat them fairly and offer different kinds of transition benefits and assistance as far as finding a new job somewhere else," Sieg said.
Employees at the Speed plant are represented by Boilermakers Local D209. A message left with the union was not immediately returned by press time.
According to a company news release, Lehigh Hanson has been working on infrastructure over the last several years to support the project, which includes a new road to alleviate truck congestion. Plans are in the works for more rail lines to carry increased cement shipments from the plant.
Sieg said the company is taking a broad perspective right now, and that he doesn't expect any immediate or near-term impacts from the expected four-year project. Air permits through the Indiana Department of Emergency Management will take about a year before anything else can begin.
In the meantime, production will continue at both plants until the new facility is ready to handle full production.
"Both of them supply a high volume of cement," Sieg said. "So we need those plants running 100 percent for the foreseeable future until that new plant is in place."