Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) and National Salvage and Service Corporation have been fined and ordered to remedy wastewater problems at the Colbert biomass plant.

GRP, which burns wood to generate electricity at its Colbert plant, contracts with National Salvage to chip railroad ties at the facility for use as fuel in electricity generation.

The companies were recently issued separate fines and consent orders by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) over unlawful water runoff at the facility onto neighboring property and a tributary.

GRP was fined $16,800 and National Salvage received a $4,000 penalty.

Both companies were ordered to take corrective actions.

GRP CONSENT ORDER

In the June 18 EPD action against GRP, state regulators said “a sampling team from the (EDP) division observed an oily sheen in the creek…and noted the presence of a continuous layer of iron reducing bacteria about two inches think along the bottom of the creek” and that samples “indicated very high levels of sodium in the creek.” Regulators said photographs and videos showed a “foamy discharge at the neighboring property downstream.”

The EPD says an unpermitted pipe was discharging into the stormwater pond. But GRP said that was not the case.

“The respondent (GRP) stated that there is an underground firewater loop valve that had been installed by a previous property owner that was not utilized by the facility,” wrote EPD director Richard Dunn.

The EDP said the facility has been the source of numerous complaints.

“Between Nov. 24, 2019 and April 29, 2020, the division has received photos and videos of the facility’s discharge and its impact, and complaints of the facility’s operation from the from five different citizens on 25 occasions,” said Dunn. “And the division alleges that video footage and photographs of discharges from the stormwater pond show significant discoloration and volume of discharge.”

The EPD concluded that the facility’s evaporators were also causing condensation on neighboring properties, and GRP was ordered to temporarily cease using the evaporators. The EPD concluded that there is not sufficient buffer space between the fire pond and the neighboring property.

The regulators also said the stormwater pond is not a sufficient size for the facility.

“The division has determined that the stormwater pond at the facility, a discharge point for both the facility and the co-located National Salvage operation, is of insufficient size and capacity to contain or otherwise reduce stormwater runoff to minimize pollutants in discharges to the maximum extent practicable,” wrote Dunn in the consent order.

The facility was ordered to correct its problems. For instance, the EPD said the facility must prove that “wastewater from water applied to the fuel pile and from the standing air compressor blow down cannot enter the stormwater pond.” The pond must also have “sufficient capacity to minimize pollutants from stormwater runoff.” The plant is now transporting its wastewater to the county treatment facility.

NATIONAL SALVAGE CONSENT ORDER

In a June 5 consent order, the EPD stated that between November of last year and May of this year, the EPD had received “photos from citizens of creosote treated lumber being off loaded from railcars outside of the facility’s boundary, crosstie debris along the rail spur drainage ditch, pollutants from the chipping operation in adjacent water conveyances.”

Regulators visited the site and “observed signs of recent discharge from the facility (National Salvage) into Georgia Renewable Power’s stormwater retention pond.”

National Salvage disagrees with the EPD allegations, but “agreed to build a containment area around the chipper to limit the potential of water used for dust suppression or fire control from comingling with stormwater to the maximum extent practicable.”

National Salvage was ordered to “cease all activities associated with the unloading of crossties from rail cars along the rail spur outside of the facility’s boundary.”

National Salvage is in the “process of extending the rail spur to accommodate additional rail cars to reduce the need to unload railroad ties directly to trucks from the railroad right of way outside of the facility’s boundary.”

The company was ordered to provide an updated plan on the railroad extension, submit a construction plan and schedule for a containment structure around the chipper. The company must present a plan on “how dust and debris from the operation will be prevented from contact with stormwater,” along with a detailed plan on “how water used for dust suppression will be collected and properly disposed.”

STATEMENT FROM GRP

Georgia Renewable Power Executive Vice President Carey Davis offered this summary of GRP’s consent order:

“Stormwater from the facility is directed to a retention pond. In accordance with state laws, the stormwater pond was designed to ensure that the quality and quantity of stormwater discharged from the facility are consistent with that of the prior conditions at the property. EPD was concerned that the stormwater pond is not of sufficient size to perform its intended function. The consent order was issued to address this issue. The facility maintains that stormwater is properly managed at the site in accordance with applicable requirements under a stormwater plan that was developed by qualified engineering firms based on a comprehensive hydrological analysis. Therefore, under the consent order, the facility denies the allegations of EPD but agreed to perform an updated assessment of the stormwater pond to determine whether the current capacity is sufficient to minimize contaminants in the stormwater runoff from the facility and to draft a management plan to implement any measures that may be necessary to correct any deficiencies in the stormwater pond.

“The same consent order also addresses issues of wastewater from the facility. The facility has applied for a permit to discharge wastewater generated from its process operations. Because this permit application has not yet been approved, the facility originally disposed of its wastewater by use of an evaporation system in its wastewater pond, which the facility was advised by its consultant did not require permitting by EPD. However, after evaporation was initiated, the EPD informed the facility of its position that the evaporation of the wastewater required a special permit and that the facility had to discontinue evaporator use until such permit was issued. The facility disagreed with the position of the EPD but discontinued evaporator use as directed by EPD. Since that time, the facility has detained the contents of the wastewater pond before trucking the wastewater to the local treatment plant, which is authorized if manifests of such disposal are maintained by the facility. Further, the EPD had become concerned that the facility had by various means released wastewater to the stormwater pond. The facility disagrees with these allegations. Nonetheless, in an effort to amicably resolve these issues, the facility agreed to provisions of a consent order requiring the facility to (i) demonstrate that wastewater from specified areas of the facility will not be discharged to the stormwater pond and to remove the request for authorization for wastewater discharge to the stormwater pond in the wastewater application; (ii) not resume operation of the evaporators until a permit is issued for such operation; (iii) maintain and submit to EPD manifests for all shipments of wastewater; (iv) prepare a plan for the ongoing management of all wastewater until a permit is issued. Finally, the consent order requires the payment of a civil penalty in the amount of $16,800 to resolve all alleged stormwater and wastewater violations.

“The facility is confident that its operations comply with applicable wastewater or stormwater regulations. The facility disagrees with the allegations of the EPD in the consent order and had the option of challenging the consent order, but instead chose to sign the consent order in an effort to further demonstrate its priority of cooperation and transparency with EPD and the general public. The facility takes its environmental obligations very seriously and remains committed to providing electrical energy in a sustainable, safe and environmentally responsible manner.”

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