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Frisco Council Takes Step Toward Closing Exide Plant

The Frisco City Council has set the stage for a process that could close the Exide lead battery plant. But Exide is promising to fight back. KERA’s Shelley Kofler reports it may be a long, emotional battle.

At Frisco City Hall, Exide employees told council members of the safety precautions the company takes as it recycles lead batteries at its Frisco plant. They asked the council to grant building permits so the plant can make the $20 million in upgrades needed to meet federal clean air standards and stay open.

Exide employee Randy West said 135 jobs are at stake.

West: If all of us people lose our jobs are ya'll going to find us jobs? Are y’all going to feed us? Are you going to pay my bills?

Employee Laurel Johnson said she doesn’t understand how Exide could operate in the same location for almost 50 years then become a target for closure.

Johnson: If Exide is a bad neighbor why then did you build a high school right south of our property. Why did you build a brand new police station, detention hall? You've built million dollar homes around us.

Opponents of the lead plant say a turning point came last year when the federal Environmental Protection Agency said air in an area around the plant contained dangerous levels of lead in the air. The state’s leading environmental agency also found lead contamination on the ground and creek banks around the plant.

Jeanette Sanden told council members Exide puts her two children at risk for learning disabilities that can come from exposure to lead.

Sanden: I want Exide out. If Exide truly cared about being a good neighbor they would have been in compliance with the EPA consistently throughout the years.

The citizen testimony set the stage for two votes. The first measure would have allowed Exide to make plant improvements under standards observed in the 1960’s when its operation began. City Attorney Richard Abernathy urged officials to vote no.

Abernathy: What Exide seeks to do is use the vested rights petition to allow it to circumvent current health and safety regulations and best construction practices.

After Exide lost that vote, council members voted unanimously to ask the Board of Adjustment to set a date for when Exide must be in compliance. It’s a move that begins the amortization process which would force the plant to shut down.

Exide Executive Vice President Bruce Cole said the company will continue to make safety improvements that don’t require city permits.

Cole: We are going to continue to work with the regulators. And we’re going to look at all of our legal actions.

The City also voted to hire a legal firm in anticipation of a law suit Exide has threatened.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.