Residents around the Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant in Colbert say the noise from the facility is unbearable, blasting at all hours. And they want local leaders to do something about it.
Commissioners spoke Monday about taking some action. District 5 commissioner Derek Doster said he would like to see an unbiased noise study conducted. He also said he would like commissioners to review the county noise ordinance.
“I’d like to see us move forward with conducting a noise study that has some amount of time to it,” he said. “I think it’s time we move this along; I’ve been tardy in it, I apologize, I was hoping self policing would handle it.”
Doster said he lives near the plant and hears the noise, too.
“I hear the plant and sympathize with neighbors,” he said. “I would appreciate the support of my colleagues in taking the appropriate step of getting unbiased information. It could be done with a 48-or-72 hour study, not just spot checking.”
Commissioner Brian Kirk said he supports getting an acoustical analysis of the GRP plant. He also said he’d like to study the noise ordinance and consider noise issues in other parts of the county.
“We need to have something consistent and good for the whole county,” said Kirk.
Commissioners Theresa Bettis, Tripp Strickland and Lee Allen all said they supported Doster’s proposal.
Commission Chairman John Scarborough said there have been some recent discussions with leaders in Franklin County about GRP noise issues — the company also has a facility in Carnesville.
“This past week, we spoke with commissioners and appointed officials in Franklin County to get a feel on looking at avenues regarding noise levels and possible abatement we might be able to address,” he said.
GRP neighbors in Colbert again addressed board members with their concerns about noise from the plant
“I live 1.5 miles from the GRP Plant in Colbert and have been personally disturbed by noise from the plant at all hours of the night and day,” Colbert resident Ruth Ann Tesanovich said to county commissioners Monday.
She also played recordings from the yard of Mack and Cheryl Adams, who live three quarters of a mile from the plant, noting that a decibel level as high as 70.
“These decibel readings and recordings provide factual evidence that noise pollution from the GRP plant is affecting the quality of life of not only the Adams' but of numerous residents living in the vicinity of the plant,” said Tesanovich.
Her husband, Drago Tesanovich, said he wants to see the county review its noise ordinance and conduct an acoustical study of the plant.
“People think we’re just here complaining, but this problem with noise is serious,” he said, adding that people who live within a half a mile radius are dealing with noise that is “unbearable almost all the time.”
Ashley Gabriel of Tumbling Creek Subdivision said she spoke on behalf of several residents in the subdivision. She asked the BOC to “work on getting the decibel levels down,” noting that a lot of families are affected.
“We’re here and we’re worried,” she said.
Lisa Stephens said she lives about two miles from the plant.
“At night there is quite the drone from the plant,” she said. “From two miles I can hear it distinctly. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people living closer.”
Leigh Ann Jones of Colbert said she lives a mile from the plant, adding that the noise is “insufferable” and that she and her husband are often woken in the night by the noise. She noted that since COVID-19 struck, she has been working from home and that there is no escape from the sound. She said she and her husband have dealt with the creosote issue and the noise and that they didn’t foresee such problems when they moved to Colbert.
“We did not bargain for this constant argument and battle,” she said.
John Hardy of Booger Hill Road didn’t speak about the GRP issue, but said he’d like to see the noise ordinance addressed, adding that there is a man in the neighborhood who rides vehicles without a muffler and plays loud music. He said the noise ordinance is out of date compared to surrounding counties.
Doster said the he spoke with a consultant who said there are a lot of bad county noise ordinances and few good ones. He said it can be done. It will just take work. He said there will have to be a lot of thought about how to enforce the noise restrictions.
Drago Tesanovich asked the board to consider removing an addition to the noise ordinance last year prior to GRP starting up that exempted industry from noise restrictions. Tesanovich said the move removed the people’s ability to “force GRP’s hand to do something.”
Scarborough said the change was not something out of the ordinary.
“That modification was reasonably consistent with other counties as it relates to industry,” he said. “It was not out of place or abnormal.”
County attorney Mike Pruett said the current ordinance refers to “plainly audible noise beyond a property line within certain hours.” He said an enforceable ordinance in regards to decibel readings will need to be more specific and would likely involve a combination of decibel readings and zoning. For instance, he noted that an allowable decibel reading of an industrial property next to another industrial property would be higher than an industrial property next to a residential property. He said the ordinance doesn’t need to be related to just one business or one issue but something is applied countywide.
“We need something defensible we can enforce,” he said.
GRP Executive Vice President Carey Davis was asked Tuesday about the noise from GRP.
He said the company already hired an independent firm to conduct a noise survey and provided the results to commissioners.
“We have already spent over $200,000 on noise suppression to go above and beyond,” he said. “It is also important to note that the Facebook traffic that the noise ordinance was changed for GRP is simply not true. We never asked for a noise ordinance change, nor needed one. We designed the facility prior to the ordinance change so it doesn’t even hold weight in a timing perspective.”
He said the report concluded that the plant doesn’t add significant volume to what is already audible in the area.
“…Our plant at the immediate fence line adds only 20ish decibels at the fence line,” he said. “Hwy. 72 and the rail line are 70-90 decibels, depending on the train.”
Davis said “the area was zoned industrial, had a plant there for 25 years that had higher noise and higher emissions than GRP and no one said anything until GRP came.”
He said more attention needs to given to the “$2 million environmental clean up we did with the mess Weyerhauser left through our brownfield permit, that we have provided more jobs than any other industry in the county, and that we are the backbone of any tax revenue in the county.”
“We could have gone anywhere in the state with our PPA (power purchase agreement) and we were asked to come to Madison County,” he said. “No tax breaks, no favors, nothing. We simply wanted to boost the economy of the county and help it grow.”
In other matters Monday, Scarborough reported that the county received a total of $1.5 million in federal CARES Act grant funding for coronavirus relief.
“That’s a 1.5 million net increase to our current position; that’s really good right now,” he said.
County commissioners also discussed potential road projects in 2021 through the state Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) program through the Georgia Department of Transportation. He noted that the county will have $927,562 to spend, which he said equals about eight miles of resurfacing. He noted that the county lost nine culverts in a February storm, which led to $436,000 in repairs.
“That’s in the past and paid for, but it gives an idea of how short a distance it covers,” said Scarborough, who asked board members to consider whether they want to add money to the LMIG to resurface more roads.
He said he’d like to submit a final list to the DOT at the end of the month on LMIG projects.
No decisions were reached Monday. Scarborough mentioned several roads that could be addressed through the LMIG program, including Timberlane Drive, Kellogg Drive, West Kellogg Drive, Old Ginn Road, Bishop Carey Road, Booger Hill Road, Neese-Commerce Road, Forest Lane, Swamp Guinnea Road and Lem Edwards Road. Commissioner Allen suggested that Adams-Clarke Road be considered and Doster said he’d like Pine Valley Farm Road to be considered. Commissioner Kirk said he’d like a list of Scarborough’s potential roads, including the mileage and potential cost. The Journal requested that list from Scarborough Tuesday, but he declined to provide it, saying that “folks tend to get upset when they read their road 'is on the list' only to find out later is might not be or isn't.”
Also Monday, the board approved Sept. 17-23 as “Constitution Week of the United States of America.” The board will vote at its next meeting on declaring October 5-11 as “2020 Mental Health Awareness Week.” The board will consider amendments to the personnel policy to include more board involvement in the hiring process.