Gypsum plant exhaust grounds airport flights |

Gypsum plant exhaust grounds airport flights

Tamara Miller
Preston Utley/Vail DailySteam from the wallboard plant rises above Gypsum Thursday morning, the airport has had to cancel and delay flights due to the morning steam.

GYPSUM – Steam rising out of the American Gypsum Wallboard Plant is causing a little steam to rise out of county officials.The Eagle County Regional Airport was forced to delay or cancel flights seven times in January because the white cloud frequently seen over Gypsum was so thick it reduced visibility.The culprit is the weather, said Ovid Seifers, the airport’s manager. The dry Colorado winters of the past several years have helped that steam evaporate quickly. But this winter’s wetter weather and cold temperatures can create a perfect holding cell for the thick, white steam. “I doubt there really is anything you can do,” Seifers said.Still, the Board of Commissioners wants to try. “We need to look at all possible ways of fixing that,” County Commissioner Peter Runyon said. What causes it?

The wallboard manufacturing plant sits at the entrance to Gypsum just off the Interstate 70 exit. Workers make wallboard out of a slurry of water and gypsum, which is mined on the north side of the interstate. The board is dried, which generates steam. That steam is filtered to the outside of the plant, causing the visible white puffs of vapor frequently seen over the building in the mornings, said Bob Jorgenson, supervisor of enforcement for the state’s air pollution control district.That steam evaporates quickly when it hits dry air. But on cold, more humid days, it stays visible for much longer, Jorgenson said.Despite the inconvenience to the airport, there’s not much Jorgenson’s office can do about it. “There are no regulations on visible water vapor,” he said. But there is a potential solution, Jorgenson said. The plant could put a condenser in the stacks. It would lower the temperature of the steam, turning it into a liquid that would be disposed of before it got out of the stack, he said. “It’s not terribly expensive, but it would be up to the plant to install that,” he said.

American Gypsum officials did not respond to a request for comment. Lost landing fees”When the airport shuts down, flights get diverted, and the most important thing, our customers get inconvenienced,” Runyon said. “They end up landing in Rifle or wherever.” Besides the inconvenience, the county loses out on landing fees every time a plane lands somewhere else.The county commissioners want to look for a solution. Runyon is considering having the county pay to fix the problem. “We want to work with them,” he said.

But County Commissioner Tom Stone is skeptical about asking the plant to do something about it.”I’m just not sure we have the authority to require anything to be done about it,” he said. County Commissioner Arn Menconi agreed. “The next step is just to get more information about if there is a solution, which there may not be,” Menconi said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or, Colorado

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