Nearly 150 people were in attendance for a public hearing held by the EPD last week to hear comments on the reissuing of a Land Application System (LAS) permit for TenCate Protective Fabrics. Many citizens spoke on both sides of the issue, with those being against stating they did not want TenCate to leave the community, they only want something to be done about the terrible chemical smell that is emitted when the LAS is in use. The EPD made no decision at the hearing and has allowed for written comments on the matter to be submitted until August 12 at the close of business.
Prior to opening the floor for public comment, Mike Anderson, Vice President of Operations for TenCate, spoke to the crowd about the 225 employees the company has between their plants in Upson and Pike Counties. Anderson stated their employees were the best of the best and he would put them up against anyone; noting their families rely on TenCate. He also stated it is thanks to the company’s success that they have been able to give millions of dollars back to the community over the years. In the 22 years the company has been in Upson County, they have won nine environmental excellence awards for the local plant.
The matter at hand was first brought up at a meeting of the Upson County Board of Commissioners last fall when two citizens told the board of a concern they had with the smell coming from the plant’s LAS and the possible contamination it was causing with nearby groundwater and surface water. At the hearing Tuesday evening, many nearby residents of the TenCate plant located on Lawrence Road in Molena stated the stench problem has increased greatly in the last seven or eight years. They noted it is so terrible, that it burns the eyes and throat and forces residents to stay inside, but that at times it fills the air in their homes as well.
Frank Reagan has been a neighbor of the company since they first moved to Upson County as Southern Mills more than two decades ago. He stated each resident was given a letter by the company when they first moved to town that stated their daily operations would not interfere with any aspect of the community and they would never even know they were there. Reagan noted for the first 17 years, TenCate lived up to their promise, however that all changed around 2007 when the smell began to permeate through the air. He called the plant at that time to find out what the problem was and stated he was told the company changed the formula used on their LAS. Reagan stated he asked why the citizens were not informed of this he was told the company did not have to do so; which he feels is big business dictating what nearby citizens’ quality of life will be like.
“I didn’t move to the country to smell this,” said Reagan. “All we want is you to re-read the letter you sent and go back to what you promised…” he told the TenCate representatives. “If you can do it for 17 years with a stink, you can do it today.”
Several citizens also stated they are concerned the use of wastewater to spray the fields, even though it is filtrated, is causing contamination of the nearby surface water and groundwater. They noted Mike Cox, a resident of Carrolton who owns a tract of land that buffers the TenCate plant, stated the wetland area on his property has been significantly damaged from the contamination with there being a form of sludge found on a beaver dam just last month. He also noted a former fortified spring is now filled with algae year round as well, which he believes is due to the wastewater coming onto his property. Another gentleman, who stated he has run a business on the Flint River for the past 40 years, agreed he also has noticed an increase in algae on the river. He noted the algae now blooms continually, not just in certain times of the year and alleged the issue is caused by the high concentration of nitrates used when TenCate sprays their fields.
Throughout the evening each of those who spoke against the company reiterated they did not want TenCate to make a decision to leave Upson County; they only want there to be clean air and water around the plant.
On the other side of the issue, several spoke in support of the company, noting all of the good things they do for the community. One of the many examples given that evening came from Richard Hickmon, Chief of Thurston Volunteer Fire Department. He stated he felt lucky to have the company in their fire district. Hickmon noted they have always been on hand to help when available by providing the material for new turn out gear for the department two different times, allowing the use of their water system when dealing with a fire in a nearby area since the county water stops on Jeff Davis Road and offering to fund the department when the county temporarily removed funding for all volunteer fire departments.
“They have always been a great friend to the Thurston Volunteer Fire Department,” said Hickmon. “Steps need to be taken to make sure they are here and operating for a long time.”
Wade Nutter, President of Nutter and Associates, spoke to the crowd of the audit his firm, which he stated is made up of scientists and engineers, conducted on TenCate’s LAS in the spring of this year. He noted the audit included a review of the spray field layout, operational and monitoring data as well as operator interviews. The firm also conducted a site walk-over, observed irrigation events, measured soil permeability and collected and analyzed soil, wastewater and off-site streams. Their conclusion was the LAS meets permit objectives, operates successfully and is well suited in wastewater quality. They also feel the submitted permit meets regulatory requirements.
According to local plant manager Bruce Bagwell, if the EPD reissues the LAS permit, the company will incorporate some new advances to help further improve the system. He noted they are currently in the process of investing $200,000 in capital improvements to the aeration system to make them function more efficiently and the LAS will also be equipped with the latest technology. This includes installing continuous oxygen dissolve monitoring stations for all of the pumps which will ensure the LAS meets the highest standards possible.
The Thomaston Times will continue to update our readers on the issue once the EPD has come to a decision.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1