Citizens concerned about emissions and noise from the power plant in Colbert once again approached Madison County commissioners Monday, asking that the group to stand up for those affected by the business.
Krissy King of Comer said her son is a cancer survivor and she fears for his health due to the burning of creosote-treated railroad ties at the Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant on Hwy. 72.
“I hope you never have to stand in my shoes when it comes to that, but I want you to understand that as a citizen who has a company burning creosote that I know for a fact can cause a secondary cancer in my child,” she said, getting choked up. “I live with that fear daily that he’s going to have another cancer. And I want you, our commissioners to stand behind us citizens and look out for us and say it’s not OK or children who have had this who have a very high risk of having a secondary cancer that because of the tax revenue, it’s OK for him to have to face that again.”
Colbert resident Gina Ward said the emissions are affecting her family’s health. She said her son has been getting nosebleeds, up to three in a day and she has been having migraine headaches.
“It’s terrible to know they are burning railroad ties seven-tenths of a mile from us and I wake up and smell it,” she said. “I’m trapped. I just have to lay there and breathe it in….I’ve just started seeing the health effects under my own roof.”
James Highsmith said he was woken up at 3 a.m. the previous night with what sounded like a jet taking off in his driveway. The noise was still there at 8:30 a.m. He said the emissions are terrible and that the “whole community is experiencing noxious smells.”
Lisa Stephens, who lives two miles away, said she worries for her son’s health, since he has breathing issues. She asked if there’s any way to get the plant to cease operations until improvements are made.
Mack Adams said noise from the plant is extremely loud, adding that he measured the sound at 81 decibels from his front porch.
“That will wake you up from a good sleep,” he said.
Ruth Ann Tesanovich played a recording of the loud sound of the plant from her house and that the business has shattered her formerly peaceful home place, bringing random sound and smells.
Her husband, Drago Tesanovich, spoke on behalf of the Madison County Clean Power Coalition, asking commissioners to hold a community meeting after the new year, giving everyone an opportunity to be heard. He asked that all interested parties, including GRP, be invited.
“Your citizens want to be heard and you need to give them a chance to do that,” he said.
Commission chairman John Scarborough spoke about GRP before the public comment portion of the meeting. He said he recently met with GRP officials and that the company is trying to make improvements. He said GRP is moving its wood stockpile of crossties inside the facility rather than in the open. He said a noise suppressor or silencer is being installed to reduce sound. He said a “sleeve” is being put on the conveyor to limit dust and emissions from the movement of wood products.
“They seem intent on making this a better arrangement and on being a better neighbor and I think that is largely a result of some of the exposure and the meetings that have taken place,” he said, adding that changes should come in January.
After the public comments, the chairman spoke again about GRP. He noted that the action taken by Franklin County commissioners to declare GRP a public nuisance was in Magistrate Court and that fines can be issued there.
“While the county does have that option and I heard the comment about shutting it down or ceasing operations,” said Scarborough. “Again, there are certain things we can do and there are certain things where you’ll end up in court, because we are legally bound if they’re operating under a permit that’s been approved. There are certain things we have to abide by. We are currently looking at those options. Anytime you have these things, you keep every available option on the table….We’re trying to look at it in its totality and you have to. I’m meeting with them and talking with them and secure many of those things we need them to do. I’d rather them agree to do it than me suing them to do it. Long term, they’re going to be here, regardless of what they’re burning.”
County attorney Mike Pruett said his communications with commissioners have been intense related to GRP and he has been working to respond to their concerns. He also addressed Franklin County’s recent action.
“They (Franklin County) are pursuing local ordinance violations through the Magistrate Court which is limited as to what the relief can be,” said Pruett. “It’s basically a fine. If you’re talking about abatement or an injunction, that has to be a Superior Court action and that is potentially a possibility. That would raise the stakes on both sides.”
Commissioner Tripp Strickland said he wants citizens to know the commissioners are working on the matter.
“I don’t want anybody to think we’re sitting on our hands and just watching the world go by,” he said. “We want to do the right thing. And the people of this county, we’re not going to sell them out for tax dollars. Of course, we don’t want to be ignorant either.”
Commissioner Theresa Bettis said “absolutely” in agreement with Strickland’s statement about not selling out citizens for money.
Commissioner Derek Doster said the board is educating itself and preparing for whatever comes next.
“You have people talking to them and my hope is negotiated agreements and stipulations on their part,” he said. “And we’ve asked the county attorney to continue the research that may be needed in the event that we need to move to the next step. And again, I don’t want that to be premature, but I also want to be conscious of our due diligence in what we need to do.”
Commissioner Lee Allen said he’d like to ask GRP to stop burning railroad crossties.
“I think it would be appropriate to ask GRP as a good faith effort to be a good neighbor — since pallets and things like that were the primary things they should be burning — maybe they could stop burning the crossties,” he said. “I don’t know if they will, but maybe we can ask them until we get this figured out, because obviously they’re having problems. And it’s definitely a very serious issue…I think the burning of creosote ties seems to be the main concern with the citizenry.”
Commissioner Brian Kirk said he has the same concerns as other board members.
“GRP is not the only thing in Madison County where we have some possible contamination being put out. There’s other places where similar type things occur and I just want everybody to know that we are looking at those and looking at what steps we can take…We need to be doing the prudent things. Money’s not everything, but when start going into litigation, you know who is going to have to pay for that, it’s all the citizens of Madison County. So if we can work out some compromises without having to go into that litigation and then having to put out that money for lawyers. Frankly folks, this extends further than just local. We’re trying to do the thing on the local level, but the federal government has allowed crossties to be burned in these kind of facilities…Whatever we do at the local level, we have an uphill battle in a legal match, because they have legislation that’s been approved…But very concerned. And some of you have talked about cancer. I know about it (cancer). And I understand where you’re coming from.”
In other matters, District 47 State Senator Frank Ginn told the board that he and other officials met recently with the Department of Transportation to discuss how to improve safety at the intersection of Hwy. 72 and Foote-McClellan/Hardman-Morris Road, the site of two separate fatal wrecks over the Thanksgiving holidays. Ginn also invited commissioners to attend a meeting Jan. 7 at the historic courthouse to discuss Seagraves Lake.
The board agreed to re-appoint Conolus Scott and Terry Chandler to the county zoning board and Ralph McCay to the board of assessors. The group renamed Lee Allen as the commissioners’ vice-chairman. The board approved beer and wine licenses for local businesses and set their 2020 meeting and holiday schedule. Scott addressed the board about BOC meeting times. He said he didn’t want to see the group move their meetings up to 5:30 p.m. The board’s meetings for 2020 remain at 6 p.m.
Commissioner Tripp Strickland said local dirt roads are holding up, even after recent rains. He praised the road crew for their work. Stanley Thomas addressed commissioners, expressing concern about logging trucks causing damage to county roads. Damilyn Fraser voiced dismay about a junkyard at Hwy. 106 and Neese-Commerce Road, which she said is visible from her home but not from the roadway. Scarborough noted that there will be a retirement ceremony for Anne Threlkeld of the Madison County Extension Office from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Travelers’ Museum on Comer.