By Stefanie Jackson – The Cape Charles concrete plant has come under scrutiny for its impact on the quality of life of town residents, and Coastal Precast Systems, which has owned and operated the decades-old plant since 2019, recently responded in writing to citizens’ concerns.
Public comments heard at the Cape Charles Planning Commission’s Feb. 2 meeting gave voice to concerns about “unacceptable dust and debris” and noise, which create a “threatening health environment” and diminish the outdoor experiences of residents and visitors alike.
But Coastal Precast Systems is committed to “helping to keep Cape Charles a beautiful and true working harbor town,” the company said in a Feb. 10 press release.
That means taking action to address dust and noise emanating from the plant and the recent clearing of trees at the edge of the property, which put concrete plant operations in full view from the boardwalk of the adjacent Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve.
Coastal Precast is working to control its dust through several measures, including the purchase of a water truck that runs daily to keep the dust down.
The dust collectors for the cement silos have been rebuilt, and a reclamation system has been added to further cut air impurities.
Two large under-roof production facilities are under construction, which will minimize both dust and noise.
Another measure used to reduce noise is changing or repositioning audible alarms on concrete plant equipment, pointing the alarms away from town whenever possible while remaining in compliance with federal and state regulations from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
“Safety is our #1 priority, these OSHA regulations are in place for that very purpose,” the release stated.
Coastal Precast has measured how much noise carries from the concrete plant into town on at least two occasions.
A noise survey was conducted using a decibel reader on the Cape Charles waterfront, when the concrete plant was in full operation, Jan. 16, 8:30 a.m.
The noise level ranged from 52 to 55 decibels over a 30-second sample time.
Another noise survey was conducted Feb. 5, at three different locations in town. The noise level was 50 decibels at 11:30 a.m. on Mason Avenue, 50 decibels at 11:35 a.m. on Tazewell Avenue, and 56 decibels at 11:40 a.m. at The Shanty restaurant on the harbor.
To measure noise levels impacting a home, a decibel reading should be taken inside, four feet from the wall, the release stated.
Coastal Precast noted that noise levels between 52 and 55 decibels are equivalent to a “quiet office” and within the 65-decibel maximum allowed during regular business hours, according to Virginia Beach’s noise ordinance.
The Cape Charles facility operates Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and occasionally runs on Saturday to make up for time lost on rainy days.
Tugboats and barges operate 24/7, and “we strive to only operate during normal business hours but unfortunately, we are at the mercy of our customers and their schedule demands,” the release stated.
Coastal Precast describes Cape Charles Mayor Smitty Dize and Town Manager John Hozey, as “a pleasure to work with” and communications with Bill Ballard, of the private group Citizens Concerned for Cape Charles, as “amicable.”
Hozey told an Eastern Shore Post reporter that the town has a noise ordinance but according to state code, it cannot apply to industrial sites.
The removal of trees on Coastal Precast property, next to the Cape Charles nature preserve, was deemed necessary to concrete plant operations, and “we took care as to not overstep our boundary,” the release stated.
There are no definitive plans to repair the viewshed from the nature preserve’s boardwalk, but concepts for a wall have been discussed.
Hozey said he has not yet been to inspect the changed view from the boardwalk or considered discussing it with Coastal Precast Concrete.
Neither does Coastal Precast plan to expand the Cape Charles facility or its hours of operation.
However, there are plans to add 50 to 100 more employees to the Cape Charles team of 160 concrete plant workers.
Creating local jobs is just one way Coastal Precast is a good corporate neighbor. It also supports local businesses, donates to local charities, supports local law enforcement, and hosts the town’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display, the company disclosed.
Coastal Precast Systems says it continues to cooperate with town and Northampton County officials and listen to citizens’ thoughts and ideas.
Coastal Precast Systems dates back to 1946, even before its historic predecessor in Cape Charles, Bayshore Concrete, which was established in 1961 to help build the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Coastal Precast Systems employs more than 550 people at three facilities, including Wilmington, N.C., and Chesapeake, which is also home to its main office.
Cape Charles is the newest location of Coastal Precast but is positioned to become possibly the company’s primary production facility due to its “unique orientation,” making it accessible by barge.
In its first year of operations for Coastal Precast Systems, the Cape Charles concrete plant worked on two projects that required concrete pieces so large, they could only be transported by barge.
Those two projects were the construction of a U.S. Navy submarine production facility in Connecticut and the new Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Maryland, which spans 1.7 miles across the Potomac River.
Coastal Precast also aspires to be a good environmental neighbor and, while cleaning up its Cape Charles property, has recycled more than 60,000 tons of concrete, disposed about 5,000 tons of scrap steel and iron, and demolished many corroded buildings.
Coastal Precast Systems is Northampton County’s largest employer and generates an annual taxable revenue of about $40 million to $50 million.
The company was expected to address the Cape Charles Town Council at its Feb. 18 meeting.