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Frisco Rejects Exide Application

The fight over the Frisco lead smelter got hotter last night. Frisco’s Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously rejected a plan that would have favored Exide, the city’s long-standing smelter and recycler. Exide opponents call it a victory. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports plant workers now fear the business might close or move, taking their jobs.

Exide opponents had attended past meetings in city hall, but for practically the first time last night, so did dozens of Exide employees. They wore buttons reading “Exide Frisco for a Greener Texas” and “Save Exide Save Frisco Jobs.” Planning and Zoning Commissioners were considering Exide’s so-called vested rights application. It would lock in zoning rules that existed when the plant opened in 1964. If approved, Exide could proceed with more than $20 million of environmental improvements, largely free from local oversight. But if rejected, Exide would have to meet current codes. If denied building permits, it might not meet standards needed to comply with federal lead rules. Rick Conner has worked at Exide more than a dozen years.

Rick Connor: What I cannot understand is that we’re having a problem getting these permits… but now all of a sudden, we’re not getting our permits, so that we can become in compliance. So that our lead levels come down.  We are concerned with the safety and the health of our children and everyone that lives in Frisco. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want to get that done.

Exide opponents, like Colette McCadden, want the plant to leave town.

Colette McCadden: Exide should not be governed by the 1964, 1968 standards, they should be governed by 2011.

McCadden said we know a lot more now about the detrimental health effects from lead exposure, and Exide should live by current science and current zoning rules.

McCadden: And frankly, I’m tired of the Frisco children being the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Frisco City Attorney Rebecca Brewer said the vote should be based on permit law, not emotional arguments about jobs or health.

Brewer: It clouds the law and it’s smoke and mirrors.

Brewer indicated there’s no legal basis for turning the clock back nearly half a century on Exide’s application.

Brewer: In 1964 there has been no evidence of a permit that was issued. Therefore under the law, vesting of rights cannot be implicated.

With the Commissioners 5-0 vote against Exide, Brewer expects the company will sue the city. Exide Vice President Bruce Cole was disappointed by the vote, saying Exide will appeal to the city council.

Cole: We have vested legal rights here, we have an obligation to come into compliance with the new federal air quality standards and the company will do everything it needs to do to make that happen and bring the plant into compliance.

Environmentalist Jim Schermbeck, with a group Down Winders At Risk, says this victory was long in coming.

Jim Schermbeck: For the last forty or fifty years, this city has said yes, yes, yes to this facility. For the first time tonight it said no and that’s a big step.

Because now, says Schermbeck, the city can launch a complex process called amortization that could lead to Exide’s Frisco exit in just a few years.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.