There is the smell and the soot from the new power plant. There is noise. And in Carnesville, there was a water runoff accident that killed fish in a creek that feeds into the Broad River.
About 10 Franklin County residents who live close to the Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant in Carnesville attended the Madison County Industrial Development and Building Authority meeting Oct. 21 to share their experiences and to learn about what’s happening at Carnesville’s sister operation, the GRP biomass plant in Colbert off Hwy. 72.
GRP is burning wood at both facilities to generate electricity to sell to Georgia Power, but residents around both plants are concerned about what the operations mean for their health, their property values and their peace of mind.
Three Madison County residents attended Monday’s meeting, including one who lives near the Colbert plant.
Gina Ward, who lives less than a mile from the plant, told the IDA and the Franklin County residents that she worries about air pollution and potential health hazards in the creek at the back of her property where her family has enjoyed playing for years.
“Now I have to worry about whether we’re splashing each other with toxic waste,” she said.
Ward said the location of GRP near her home feels like a real invasion that alters her family’s outlook on the future. She said the noise is intolerable and that she feels like her family is “collateral damage” for the county, which has seen a boost in revenues, and the power company.
Ward’s feeling was echoed by other audience members sitting or standing by the wall of the old meeting room in the county courthouse.
“You are not alone,” said Franklin County resident Mark Blalock to Ward. “We are dealing with the same thing. I’m fighting this for our kids.”
Carlton residents Chip and Dena Chandler addressed the IDA, saying that they both had defended the power plant to friends up until recently. Mr. Chandler acknowledged that they own forest acreage in the county and could profit off the sale of timber to the facility, but both agreed that the permitting for the burning of creosote-treated railroad ties at GRP tainted their perspective of the facility.
“I defended the plant to all my more paranoid friends, but now I feel I’ve been lied to,” said Mrs. Chandler, who believed the company wouldn’t burn the treated wood, which was not in GRP’s initial plans until the federal government gave the green light to the practice.
Mr. Chandler said he couldn’t believe that there was so little public notice about the permitting change that allowed for the burning of creosote railroad ties as a fuel source.
“The EPD (Environmental Protection Division) said there was 30 days for public comment, but how were we supposed to know about this as citizens?” he asked.
IDA attorney Victor Johnson said the EPD posted notice on its website and advertised in the Atlanta paper.
Franklin County residents spoke Monday of soot-soaked outdoor furniture and blueberries covered in black. One woman brought a black handprint swiped from her outdoor picnic table to show what is in the air at her home. Franklin residents said the Carnesville plant is harming the environment and potentially their health.
“The sound, the smells, the light pollution — this is disrupting our lives,” said Roger Wilson of Carnesville.
GRP in Franklin County recently had an accident in which wood that had been on site for some time started smoldering. GRP employees put substantial water on the woodpile to knock out the heat, but the water ran into a retention pond and then into the Indian Creek, which led to the death of fish and water discoloration. That incident is being investigated by the EPD.
David Groves, who works for Veolia, the company hired by GRP to oversee the plant operations, recently apologized to Franklin County officials, according to a report this week in The Franklin County Citizen by Shane Scoggins.
“What happened last week was very unfortunate,” Groves told Franklin County officials. “For Veolia, I apologize.”
The Citizen reported that the wood at the Carnesville facility sat for too long and started to decompose, releasing tannins, which are acidic. The tannins pull the oxygen out of the water and lower the PH level.
Franklin County residents told the Madison County IDA Monday that they are frustrated with a lack of information from GRP regarding their concerns.
IDA executive director Frank Ginn, who also serves as state senator for District 47, encouraged those with concerns about the plants to take an on-site tour.
One Franklin County resident said he’d like to do exactly that. He said he has researched such facilities and would like to see whether enough is being done to mitigate problems. He said there is equipment that can be installed to do more to protect the environment. And he worries that rural residents are getting shortchanged in comparison to protections that would be implemented in metro areas.
Ginn said that there are no perfect solutions. He noted that he drove to work in a car, which releases emissions.
“It’s not a perfect world,” he said, adding that he would like to help citizens be educated on what the plants are doing.
Gerry Wilson of Carnesville said she feels more needs to be done by elected officials to stay up to date on permitting changes, such as the one allowing for creosote-treated railroad ties as a fuel source. She urged Ginn and the IDA to stay on top of this and to subscribe to EPD notifications. Wilson also said GRP has talked about being good neighbors, but she hasn’t seen evidence of this. She asked Ginn if GRP is being good neighbors in Madison County.
Ginn said yes. He noted that GRP has done a lot of work on a neighboring property to address the property owner’s concerns. That property owner has a lawsuit pending in federal court against GRP concerning water runoff from GRP onto his land. Wilson asked what else GRP was doing to be a good neighbor.
“I don’t know what all they’ve done,” said Ginn. “I wish I could tell you.”
County commission chairman John Scarborough said that the counties are benefiting from tax dollars that GRP is providing. He asked how many of the Franklin County residents live close to the facility. All of them did. He suggested that many others in Franklin County might be pleased to have a new tax source to offset the property tax burden. But he said people who live near a new industry tend to speak up more than those who don’t.
“If you live near it, you’ll be more vocal,” he said. “I appreciate it’s important to you.”
Acting IDA chairman Josh Chandler said he’s glad to see discussion and information sharing on the issue.
“I don’t feel like we’re at the end of this,” he said.
Franklin County residents said after the meeting that they are planning a public meeting Sunday, Oct. 27 at 3 p.m. at Double Churches Fire Department to discuss power plant concerns. They are urging Madison County residents to attend.
IDA ATTORNEY LEAVING
In other matters Monday, the industrial authority heard from attorney Victor Johnson, who has served as legal counsel for the IDA for nearly two decades. Johnson said his private practice is requiring more of his time and that he is resigning from the industrial authority as soon as the group finds a suitable replacement. Long-time county attorney Mike Pruett has agreed to assist in the transition until a permanent replacement is found.
IDA ORGANIZATIONAL CHART APPROVED
Industrial authority members approved an organizational chart for IDA personnel Monday. That move was approved by a 2-1 vote, with Josh Chandler and Jeff Dillard voting “Yes” and Pat Mahoney voting “No.” The move puts Ginn clearly in charge of day-to-day decision making, with policy matters falling to the industrial authority. Long-time IDA chairman Bruce Azevedo recently resigned amid the restructuring. His position remains vacant, but county commissioners will consider his replacement at their meeting at 6 p.m., Oct. 28. Mahoney said she feels the executive director’s position should be occupied by someone who is on hand full-time for 12 months out of the year. Ginn’s duties as state senator put him in Atlanta for much of the legislative session.
“For three-to-four months, that person will not be available to do the job,” said Mahoney.
Josh Chandler said that the responsibility to accomplish his necessary tasks will still rest on Ginn’s shoulders, even as he serves in his senatorial duties.
Scarborough said the IDA voted Ginn into the position already knowing that he had duties in Atlanta.
“If it was the intent of the board for a 12-month position, we’d have one,” he said. “That train has left the station.”
The authority postponed approving detailed job duty lists for IDA personnel.
2020 BUDGET APPROVED
The industrial authority officially approved its 2020 budget Monday. That budget is divided into two parts — a water fund and an IDA budget. The water fund fluctuates dramatically from year to year based on what water/sewer projects are factored into the numbers. In 2019, the $6.8 million water budget included the $4.7 million 12-inch, 12-mile water line extension from Elbert County to provide water to GRP. The 2020 water budget is set at $2.7 million. The water budget was $4.3 million in 2017 and $1.7 million in 2018. The IDA budget is set at $710,600, up slightly from $708,968 this year. However, the IDA is projecting a cash fund balance of $32,496 at the end of 2020.