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Hershey Chocolate against proposed cement plant in Stuarts Draft; permit to go before zoning

Oct 31, 2023

STUARTS DRAFT - Hershey Chocolate of Virginia in Stuarts Draft is bringing concerns to the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals Thursday after the company found out about plans of a new cement batching plant wanting to locate nearby.

Hershey and Superior Concrete, who is applying for the special use permit, appeared before the board of zoning appeals in October. At that time, Hershey opposed the special use permit Superior Concrete was applying for.

Randy Brock, the technical assurance manager at the Hershey plant, said they hired an environmental consulting group after that.

"The results are pretty concerning," Brock said.

The batching plant would be located just northwest of the Hershey plant, over the railroad tracks at 100 Johnson Drive. An 11-page letter has been sent to the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and Augusta County Community Development Department with their concerns, along with a 31-page opposition application.

Superior Concrete, out of Harrisonburg, was founded in 1953 and serve Rockingham, Shenandoah, Page and northern Augusta counties in Virginia and Hardy and Pendleton counties in West Virginia.

According to the letter, the proposed concrete batch plant will have an undue adverse impact on Hershey's current and planned future operations.

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"Hershey adheres to the most rigorous food quality and safety standards in the world," the letter said. "...The proposed concrete batch plant — and the dust and other external effects it will generate is simply not compatible with Hershey's approved use, and the application for a special use permit should be denied. Although both concrete manufacturing and food manufacturing constitute industrial use activities, these very different activities exhibit unique characteristics and are not compatible as neighboring operations.

"Superior Concrete proposes to operate a concrete batching plant that would involve materials deliveries, open material storage and batch plant processes generating significant fugitive dust and particulate emissions," the letter continued. "Concrete batch plants are known sources of particulate emissions which typically contain arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, zinc and crystalline silica. These types of emissions simply are not compatible with Hershey's existing use involving high-quality food manufacturing."

Brock said that Hershey was given little advance notice of the first hearing back in October and had no direct contact from the applicant — who is Roger Willetts, an agent for Superior Concrete, according to county documents.

The board continued the first hearing from October to give the applicant time to get more information pertaining to concerns on dust.

"Food safety is very important to us," Brock said. "Anything that will risk or potentially risk that is a concern."

Shortly after receiving a letter from Hershey on how they opposed the request from Superior Concrete, the county received an eight-page letter from Superior Concrete from the applicant on how they meet all environmental requirements. Staff then received "conflicting reports," according to the agenda and couldn't make a recommendation.

Willetts could not be reached for comment.

The board of zoning appeals will hear the request Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

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In May, Hershey announced it would invest $104 million for an expansion that will allow for Reese's to be made on the new product line.

This expansion will add 65 jobs and 111,000 square feet, which includes a separate peanut roasting operation.

The plant expansion will include a new, separate building that will serve as a Hershey Peanut Roasting Center of Excellence — a new manufacturing line at the plant specifically for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The new roasting center will feature the latest in peanut roasting technology and will create expanded roasting capacity to support the company's needs for its expanding products, a release said.

The expansion will also add an additional 64,000 square feet onto the existing plant building. The new roasting operation will be 46,000 square feet.

The expansion will increase production volume by about 15%.

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You can reach reporter Laura Peters at [email protected]. Follow her @peterslaura.

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