Vallejo cement plant dies a slow, anguished death

Shoshana Hebshi, Redwood Chapter Communications Coordinator

After weeks of speculation, the contentious Orcem cement plant and deep-water terminal project slated for South Vallejo has been withdrawn as of Friday, May 24.

“We are celebrating all over Vallejo,” said Solano Group Chair Joe Feller, who has been an indefatigable force in rallying opposition to the project during the last two years.

Feller received a notice from the City of Vallejo that the project proposed by Vallejo Marine Terminal, LLC, had been withdrawn after an appeal of the city planning commission’s denial of the plan, known as the VMT-Orcem Project.

The City Council was set to hear the appeal at a May 30 meeting, and that meeting has been canceled.

VMT has been working since September 2013 on turning the former General Mills factory, also known as the Sperry Mill, in a working-class neighborhood along the Napa River into a “green” cement factory and deep-water terminal to ship materials in and out. Once the community got wind of the idea, understanding that the cement plant would contribute much air and noise pollution, introduce a huge amount of large truck traffic and degrade the neighborhood, there was a wave of opposition coming to city meetings to decry the project.

Solano Group got involved in 2017 and linked up with Fresh Air Vallejo in fighting the project. Feller helped educate the community and build a grassroots movement that put tremendous pressure on city officials and staff to reject VMT-Orcem.

The appeal came after the planning commission denied a major use permit in February 2017 citing concerns over environmental and quality-of-life impacts to residents. VMT was supposed to conduct a new Environmental Impact Report, after the first appeared to be highly flawed. Since then, VMT has failed to come back to the city with the updated EIR and other required documents and payments to keep the project going.

While the company was stalling, activists and organizers began to speculate that the project was dying.

“We finally got our answer and some very happy closure,” Feller said. “This project was wrong for the neighborhood, wrong for Vallejo and wrong for the planet. We need to think about how the city can transition into a carbon-neutral scenario as we move forward. More pollution, more dirty industry is not the answer.”