TenCate Protective Fabrics is seeking the support of the Thomaston-Upson County community to be a voice to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on the matter of re-issuing the company’s Land Application System Permit for its Molena plant. This permit allows the company to get rid of their industrial waste through a filtration system, which once treated is then sprayed on the land the company owns. The issue originally arose after neighbors complained of the odor given off by the land application system. Mike Anderson, Vice President of Operations for TenCate and Bruce Bagwell, local TenCate plant manager, met with the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority (TUIDA) last week during their regular meeting to explain why the help of the board and the community is needed, as well as why changing to a direct discharge system, which has been suggested to alleviate the odor problem, would negatively impact the company.
At the beginning of the meeting, the company released the following written statement about the issue.
“Forcing TenCate to a direct discharge system will hurt not only TenCate, but the entire Upson County community and potentially Georgia, since TenCate will need to review the best business options for their future manufacturing needs. The current Land Application System has served the facility well for over 22 years and is the safest and most economic means to process effluent. TenCate is committed to making additional investments to further reduce the odor concerns voiced by a few neighbors, but must be guaranteed it will be allowed to continue to operate. A complete change in their operation is unfair and completely unnecessary based on their outstanding operational record and numerous environmental awards.”
The matter at hand began last November when two citizens, Frank Reagan and Donald Fowler, approached the Board of Commissioners about an issue they had with the smell that comes from the plant on Thundering Springs Road when the fields are sprayed with the industrial waste through a filtration system. The gentlemen also stated they had concerns that the chemicals being used could cause water contamination in Spring Creek and Elkins Creek. Fowler, who is also a member of Adopt a Stream, had taken samples of the water at both the springhead and around the plant and noted the reading in the conductivity levels was much higher near the business. He asked the commissioners to support their case in the form of a letter to the EPD requesting the permit be only renewed with the condition of a waste water treatment process through a direct discharge system as well as requiring the smell cease and not re-occur. The commissioners took no action that evening.
According to Anderson, in addition to Fowler, Commissioner Steve Hudson has since voiced his concerns to the EPD in a letter primarily about addressing the level of the Flint River since the county has recently taken over operations of Sprewell Bluff. Anderson went on to say that after speaking with Hudson about the issue last week and clearing up some misconceptions, Hudson said he was sorry for his letter and did not mean it the way it came across. Since that meeting, Anderson stated Hudson has written another letter to the EPD, stating he had been misinformed in his previous comments.
Commissioner Hudson released the following statement on the matter.
“Recently some constituents from my district attended this meeting (county commissioners meeting), with concerns over practices of TenCate Manufacturing in the Camp Thunder area of Upson County. As for all constituents, I investigated and found none of the alleged problems were of any significant magnitude. As an individual commissioner, not as the Board of Commissioners as a whole, I responded to an EPD request and stated that “TenCate is a very valuable employer to our county” and that my only concern was the level of the Flint River, specifically at Sprewell Bluff Park. I thought TenCate was withdrawing water from the Flint River and not returning the water. I have since found that the water is actually being withdrawn from a spring fed lake. I made a tongue-in-cheek statement that ‘A treatment facility would be a nice gesture on their part, but a decidedly expensive one.’ Apparently, EPD misinterpreted my statement. After reading the statement again this week, I see how someone who does not know my sense of humor could misread. I did not suggest that a $50 problem should be corrected by a $35,000,000 solution. This week, it was even stated that I was trying to run TenCate out of Upson County. TenCate is a valuable corporate citizen of District 2 and provides payroll to many citizens of our county. They also are a huge supporter of the Volunteer Fire Departments. I am sorry for any problems this might have made for TenCate and I am committed to do anything I can to solve this issue with EPD.”
However, while Anderson noted TenCate appreciates Hudson reviewing his comments, the State has already begun their investigation and it can only be changed with the support of the Upson County community. In the information handed out at the TUIDA meeting, TenCate addressed the concerns that have come up about the company.
The first is that water is only taken from and not returned to the Flint River. TenCate states that they do purchase their water from the Boy Scouts to be taken from the lake on their property; however, the lake is fed from a series of underground springs, not the Flint River. The company also noted since they have been spraying the effluent on their fields, the number of springs flowing into the lake and around the area has almost tripled. The information given states this is attributed to the increase in the head pressure that occurs through the application of water to the land which is cleaned as it moves through the soil into underground aquifers. It also noted the lake on the property overflows continuously into Spring Creek and eventually into the Flint River at a daily rate of 800,000 to 1,600,000 gallons.
Next, TenCate notes that a direct discharge system would be extremely expensive way to clean the water, which is already being done through the Land Application System. Furthermore, it is a cost they cannot afford to incur with the other system already in place and operating effectively. The Upson County plant has won the Environmental Award for BEST in Georgia Land Application Systems nine times from the Georgia Waste Water Pollution Control Association.
Finally, when it comes to the conductivity of the water which Mr. Fowler voiced concerns about, TenCate notes there are several swampy areas around the plant, where Fowler’s samples were taken. Those areas are said to have a conductivity range between 501-45 and Spring Creek and Elkins Creek register between 125-50 where they leave the TenCate property. The US Federal Environmental Protection Agency ‘s (EPA) website states the average river in the United States has a conductivity of 500 to 1500, which means all the streams around the plants are well within Federal guidelines.
Anderson closed out the presentation by stating TenCate plans to install new technology at the local plant in 2014, if the State renews their permit without the condition of a direct discharge option. He continued by asking that the TUIDA, as well as citizens of the community write letters to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division supporting the industry in hopes of having the permit renewed without a direct discharge condition. Letters may be mailed to Georgia Environmental Protection Division, 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Suite 1456, Atlanta, Ga 30334. They may also be sent via email to James A. Capp, Chief Watershed Protection Branch at James.Capp@dnr.state.ga.us; Josh Welte, Professional Engineer at Josh.Welte@dnr.state.ga.us and Nicole Nichols, Environmental Engineer at Nicole.Nichols@dnr.state.ga.us. A public hearing where citizens can show their support will also be held at the R. E. Lee Auditorium later this year.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1