Several Hundred Attend EPD Public Hearing on Wilbros

November 16, 2012

Stephens County residents concerned about the Wilbros odor issue confront the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Several hundred people turned out Thursday evening for a three-hour public hearing at the Tugaloo Center for the Performing Arts at Stephens County High School on the proposed EPD consent order for Wilbros regarding the odor.

More than 40 people spoke to EPD officials in attendance about the proposed consent order and their concerns about the odor from the Rose Lane facility.

According to the EPD, the proposed consent order requires Wilbros to allow only compostable wastes that should not generate excessive odors, not allow wastewater to go to the wastewater treatment facility that would overload the system and exceed treatment capacity, install a cover for the anaerobic basin of the wastewater treatment facility, and put in place repairs and procedures to reduce odors from the compost operation, among taking other steps.

Officials with the EPD have said the agency believes these are corrective actions that will reduce the odor.

However, a number of last night’s speakers, including the Rev. Jim Howard of Toccoa, said just reducing the odor might not be a specific enough goal.

“If you want to enter into an agreement, I want to see terms like ‘it will eliminate the odor,’ ‘it will stop this,’” said the Rev. Howard. “No, ‘it might’ or ‘it should improve.’ How much does it improve?”

Many of the speakers, including Sanford Williams of Toccoa, talked about the effects of the odor on their quality of life.

“When you EPD people go home this weekend, I hope you will be able to open the windows in your home and enjoy the fresh, fall air, or that you will be able to cook out and enjoy time with your family outdoors, mow your grass, and rake your leaves,” said Williams. “The people here cannot do that. We are prisoners in our own homes. Reconsider your agreement and shut Joe Wilbanks down.”

Other speakers, such as David Chase of Toccoa, said they have concerns about the impact of the air on the health of the community.

“We already know that the air quality is terrible from this,” said Chase. “I want to know what is going to happen to our children 15, 20 years from now when the effects of these particles that are in the air that are causing this smell are in our lungs. How is that going to affect us health-wise?”

Other speakers also talked about the effects on nearby businesses and industries.

Some speakers also questioned why Wilbros or the EPD would select a third party to monitor the odor as the proposed consent order requires, suggesting that Stephens County should have a say in that, while others called for an increase in the $25,000 fine against Wilbros called for in the proposed consent order.

One speaker, Dee Dee Arrowood of Toccoa, asked EPD Assistant Director Jim Ussery why Stephens County’s area representative on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources board, Joe Hatfield, can also have what Arrowood called significant involvement in Wilbros. The EPD falls under the banner of the DNR. Arrowood indicated she felt it was a conflict of interest, while Ussery said he does not believe that is the case.

In general, many expressed a lack of confidence in the EPD, such as this woman who addressed Ussery near the end of the meeting.

“Are you here for us or Wilbros?” asked the woman.

“We are here to fix the problem and I think that is what the consent order will do,” said Ussery.

The EPD said it would continue to accept written comments on the proposed consent order by mail or e-mail until the close of business on November 21.

The e-mail address for submitting comments is EPDcomments@dnr.state.ga.us. If e-mailing, include the words “Proposed Consent Order Comments, Wilbros LLC” in the subject line.

Comments can also be mailed to:

Ms. Linda MacGregor
Watershed Protection Branch
4220 International Parkway, Suite 101
Atlanta, Georgia 30354

The proposed order can be viewed by going online to www.georgiaepd.com and clicking on the “What’s New at EPD” button.

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