The Georgia Environmental Protection Division orders the Wilbros facility in Toccoa to shut down.
Today, the EPD announced it will revoke the environmental permits for Wilbros and has ordered the facility on Rose Lane to close, pending any appeal by Wilbros.
In its announcement, the EPD said Wilbros has been cited for numerous violations of the state’s Solid Waste Management and Water Quality Acts.
The EPD said those violations include loading and unloading waste in unpermitted areas, amounts of materials being stored and processed exceeding regulatory limits, and wastewater discharges exceeding limits for total residual chlorine, dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform, and oil and grease.
Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Judson Turner said this action is appropriate considering Wilbros’ record of chronic non-compliance with state laws.
“We have reached a point where I think it is appropriate that we move towards closure as opposed to continuing to try to bring this facility into compliance with their permit,” said Turner.
Wilbros has been at the center of controversy for years over excessive odors coming from the facility.
Under the requirements of an EPD administrative order, Wilbros must immediately stop receiving waste and begin closure proceedings, while the facility’s solid waste handling and wastewater permits will be revoked in 30 days.
In the order, the EPD said all closure procedures must be completed within 120 days.
Under the law, Wilbros has 30 days to appeal this order.
If Wilbros chooses to appeal, an EPD spokesperson said the order would be stayed and Wilbros could continue to operate pending the resolution of the appeal.
There is no word on how long that appeal process would take.
Back in 2012, a consent order negotiated between the EPD and Wilbros resulted from a previous EPD order suspending Wilbros’ permits.
This time, a letter to Wilbros from the EPD states Wilbros was not willing to enter into a consent order proposed by the agency earlier this month.
Turner said another consent order is not likely in the future.
“It is not my intent to negotiate another consent order at this point,” said Turner.
Turner went on to say that he hopes this ruling can be the start of closure regarding this issue for the county.
“I am sorry that the people of Stephens County had to live through this and we have reached this decision soberly, but I am glad to try to move forward and get some relief there,” said Turner.
Meanwhile, local officials are also reacting.
Stephens County Attorney Brian Ranck said he had not seen the complete order as of late Wednesday afternoon, but was pleased by what he read in the EPD’s press release.
“I will say what we have seen so far is encouraging,” said Ranck. “We certainly welcome the EPD stepping up and assisting the citizens of StephensCounty.”
Ranck said the next step is to digest what is in the actual order and understand the potential appeal process.
Moving forward, Turner said that if designed properly, run properly, and put in the proper locations, facilities like this can serve an important role in waste reduction.
He added that it is imperative local communities take an active role in enacting laws to make sure such facilities are not put in places where they will negatively impact communities.
“Ultimately, local zoning still remains an important part of being successful here,” said Turner. “Obviously, locating a facility like Wilbros in close proximity to schools, parks, walking tracks, and businesses is going to be a challenge. It is only exacerbated when you do not comply with your permit.”
Turner also said he hopes proposed new rules for composting facilities will help better regulate such businesses in the future.
However, some local residents have expressed concerns about those rules, saying they do not go far enough.