Red Hook cement plant is up and running

A controversial Red Hook concrete plant that will help rebuild the World Trade Center has quietly opened, dashing the hopes of stone-faced critics who vilified its arrival.

The United States Concrete facility opened on March 15, according to Michael Gentoso, a regional vice president for the Texas-based company, but rainy weather and the ongoing economic storm has kept the plant operating at below capacity.

“We are having a slow start,” he said.

Critics of the $2-million facility at Columbia and Halleck streets say that its proximity to neighborhood ball fields and an organic farm could mean further pollution for a neighborhood already besieged by land — from the Gowanus Expressway and truck traffic —and sea — from the fumes belched out by cruise ships and container vessels.

“We are going to be dealing with cement dust that can’t be seen with the eyes,” said Pete Morales, co-commissioner of the Red Hook Little League. “I don’t want my kids playing there.”

Morales said that already, cement trucks line one side of the park, a vexing preview of what the future holds. “I feel like the community is being bullied,” he continued. “Everyone can just come in this community and do what they want to do. Our opinion is not being considered at all.”

The facility is located in the shadow of IKEA, in a district that allows manufacturing uses, and therefore, did not require any special approvals or public review.

Gentoso said the company adheres to a strict — and legally mandated — dust control policy. He said machines trap dust when the material is placed into barrels, as well as when it is placed in silos.

“There will be no fugitive dust,” he vowed. “We are a very responsible company when it comes to safety. I don’t think we’ll have a big impact on the neighborhood, and we are looking to be part of the neighborhood.”

Just don’t look in Lillian Marshall’s direction. The president of the Red Hook West tenants’ association remained confident that opponents will one day prevail, and have the facility shuttered. “We will get them out,” she said. “They will slip — and when they do, we’ll be right there,” she said.

The Department of Environmental Protection promised to closely monitor the facility, and can issue violations if any and all precautions are not met. Michael Saucier, an agency spokesman, has said that particles that become airborne are heavy, and tend to “fall out of the airstream quickly.”

Up to 25 trucks a day are expected to rumble along routes on Columbia and Bay streets. Gentoso said the plant has just started booking jobs and will focus its attentions on the non-building sector, projects that include roads, bridges, and wastewater treatment plants.

At capacity, the facility will produce 500-800 cubic yards of material a day. Its work with the Trade Center is through a contract with Collavino Construction, which will be handling the steel and concrete at the site, Gentoso noted.

The Red Hook plant will be operated by Eastern Concrete Materials, a subsidiary of US Concrete. For now, the plant is not hiring any new workers, but will in the future be looking for additional people, Gentoso said. The plant is the company’s fifth in the city; the only other outfit it operates in Brooklyn is a much smaller concrete facility on Ditmas Avenue.