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March 20, 2003 Issue

Wrens fire...
Wrens and Matthews fire departments respond late Monday night to a structure fire in the 200 block of Oak Street that consumed a single-wide trailer. The cause of the fire was unknown.

Plan hasn't been submitted to deal with toxic plume

One EPD official has called it "the worst case of contamination in Georgia"

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

In terms of the spread of toxic chemicals moving underground from the old landfill in Louisville, it is the worst case of contamination in Georgia. Complicating the issue for affected residents is the failure by Jefferson County's consulting engineers and the county commission to submit what Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) considers a complete plan to address the problem.

Jefferson County's woes stemming from underground contamination at the old landfill off Clark's Mill Road goes back decades, before the time that liners were required at landfill sites. Yet evident today is the underground movement, or migration, of various industrial solvents, primarily cis-1,2-dichloroethene. The migration is occurring in two sections, referred to as plumes. In terms of migration, the two toxic plumes well-exceed 50-acres in size, constituting what EPD Groundwater and Methane Compliance Unit Coordinator Pete Dasher called the worst case of contamination in Georgia. Though recent tests results from water samples are favorable, it is the failure to meet deadlines and work out a remediation of the site that continues to put the county at odds with EPD's order from July 2002 to address the problem.

Current compliance status

County Administrator James Rogers told commissioners at the March 11 regular session that the most recent water samples from the plumes, conducted in the last quarter of 2002, showed contamination levels were down in all wells compared to previous tests. Rogers said commissioners would likely wait for a report from QORE representatives before commenting on a Jan. 21 letter from EPD Geologist III Steve McManus citing the county's failure to submit the Corrective Action Plan addressing the county's intention and methodology in dealing with the plumes.

As an elected body, the commission and the county's consultant, QORE Property Sciences, have maintained since July 2002 that the problem with the portion of toxic plumes thought likely by EPD to be the cause of contamination of nearby private wells has been overstated. Some commissioners have stated in public meetings that the presence of the same volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in private wells as were found in the nearby plumes are not likely to pose a significant health threat due to the small quantities present.

The beast within

Central to the issues surrounding the toxic plumes is the reality that they have moved off county property and, according to McManus, have traveled underground approximately one-half mile. QORE Senior Hydrogeologist Curt Gorman told commissioners Sept. 3, 2002, a fact confirmed by EPD, that the plume's movement, or migration, is occurring down gradient, or toward a lower elevation. The area encompassed by the underground plume well exceeds 50 acres in size, he said.

The plumes exist in two sections and consists of groundwater contaminated with a number of VOCs, commonly used as industrial solvents, such as cis-1,2-dichloroethene and the compounds that are formed as those solvents break down. Gorman said a main area of the plume has moved under Clarks Mill Road. One section of the plume is located more than 30 feet underground and the other, situated under a layer of kaolin, lies at a depth approaching 100 feet.

The plume is generally moving to the south and southwest and, to a lesser degree, to the north-northwest at a rate of 50-100 feet per year. McManus said that while the overall concentrations of VOCs in the plume are decreasing the central portions remain significant.

Listed on EPD's Hazardous Sites Inventory (HSI), chemicals at the old landfill such as vinyl chloride have been detected in levels exceeding the reportable quantity. Other chemicals present in groundwater on landfill property include barium, nickel, benzene, chloroethane, 1,1-Dichloroethane, Dichloromethane and Trichloroethene.

A history of noncompliance

Jefferson County commissioners were given an Oct. 31, 2002, deadline to submit a Corrective Action Plan addressing the remediation of the contamination. In a July 2, 2002, letter, McManus told commissioners that EPD gave preliminary approval for remediation efforts such as vapor extraction, injection of potassium permanganate and monitored natural attenuation. The next step in the process was the presentation of all corrective measures at a public hearing. The hearing was held Sept. 18 but was unable to fulfill EPD's requirements, as Gorman told residents all the facets of the Corrective Action Plan had not been developed at that time.

Gorman said a health risk assessment to residences in the immediate area had been completed. He said that while a degree of contamination was found in some residential wells it did not appear to have originated with the toxic plumes.

QORE based those conclusions on water samples taken from test wells located between the residences and the plumes. Samples from the test wells did not show contamination, leading QORE to conclude that the contamination originated on-site at the residences rather than with the plume.

When questioned, Gorman said the industrial chemicals present in residential wells must have gotten there through leaching through septic systems or through a spill occurring on private property. QORE's position was challenged by residents at the public hearing, who stated that industrial chemicals such as cis-1,2-dichloroethene had not been spilled or dumped on their properties and could not have showed up in their wells without somehow bypassing the clean test wells and ending up in their drinking water. The source of contamination, they said, must be the toxic plumes coming from the landfill where the same chemicals were being tracked.

In an addendum to his July 2, 2002, letter McManus, apparently agreed with residents, stating that "it is likely that the cis-1,2-dichloroethene plume from the landfill extends onto the Davis, Saunders and Hughes properties."

Commission Chairman Gardner Hobbs concluded the meeting by stating that he believed that EPD's requirements had been satisfied. EPD's Dasher responded to a question at the end of the meeting and verified again last week that the commission would be required to hold another public hearing to explain the corrective action plan in full to residents prior to EPD approving the plan. Rogers said at the March 11 commission that the commission would hold another public hearing at the appropriate time.

McManus stated in the July 2 letter that EPD decided to require a Corrective Action Plan with an Oct. 31 deadline because Jefferson County had "had problems in the past meeting submittal deadlines." He said a notice of violation and a $100 per day consent order would follow if the deadline were not met. In EPD's most recent letter to the commission, dated Jan. 21, no mention was made of monetary penalties but did reiterate the county's failure to submit a completed plan.

"What the plan contains is a description of how three remedial technologies will be tested and evaluated to determine which remedy may be employed," McManus said. "This process would have better been undertaken and included in the Assessment of Corrective Measures phase of the project. In essence, the proposed 'Corrective Action Plan' is to conduct an Assessment of Corrective Measures. Submitting an incomplete corrective action plan only further delays the remediation of this site."

EPD gave the county a new deadline of Feb. 28 to submit a detailed Corrective Action Plan. McManus confirmed March 10 that as of that date the QORE had communicated with EPD on the matter but had not submitted the Corrective Action Plan. He said the county appeared to be close to providing the required information necessary to proceed with the remediation process.

Responding to questions from the audience at the March 11 regular session, the four district commissioners acknowledged that they had not been provided with the either the Jan. 21 letter from EPD or the March 11 letter from QORE. Only Hobbs and Rogers were aware of the letters.

New county administrator still being sought

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Applications and resumes came in and interviews were conducted for positions for the upcoming opening for County Administrator and the current opening for Recreation Director. A called meeting mid-week may help decide the status of the openings.

Jefferson County Administrator James Rogers said Monday former Dickson, Tennessee City Administrator Alton Brown had been selected for the County Administrator position but had turned down the job offer. Notification of his intention to withdraw his name came in an e-mail Friday, in which Brown said his decision was due to personal reasons.

Rogers said the commission is meeting March 19 to determine what direction to take. Only two of the original five finalists remain possible for consideration if the board decides to offer the position to either one of them. The candidates include local resident and former commissioner William Rabun and Cleveland, Georgia, resident Paul Bryan, who served as County Administrator for both White and Screven counties.

The selection of former Jefferson County High School football coach Charles Rutland for the county's new Recreation Director has been made but has not been confirmed. Rutland's selection was made from a group of one dozen applicants and five finalists for the job.

Rogers said Chairman Gardner Hobbs was scheduled to meet with Rutland Wednesday to discuss the terms of employment.

Gourd-lovers plan gathering

Fourth annual Gourd Festival planned for Saturday, March 29

By Parish Howard

Gourd-lovers, crafters and hundreds of those just looking for a good time are expected to crowd Wrens, home of the largest gourd farm in the southeast, in record numbers this year as the city hosts its fourth annual Gourd Festival.

"Word is really getting around that this is a festival people want to attend," said Dollye Ward, a Wrens council member and Better Hometown event organizer. "Vendors are saying they've heard about our festival at other festivals. They're recommending to each other. That really says something about our festival, about the quality of it."

Gourd artists from as far away as North Carolina and Florida, as well as from all over Georgia, have reserved booths at the festival along with representatives from the Georgia Gourd Society and around 50 other food and craft vendors.

Georgia Gourd Society President Karen Kirkland said that while her group visits gourd shows all over the county, the Wrens festival is something different.

"We're really looking forward to the festival," Kirkland said. "We're proud to be able to support Wrens and Mrs. Lena (Braswell-local gourd farm owner). She's such a great supporter of our crafters. We're glad to get involved in anything that will help people get as excited about gourds as we are."

The society is bringing at least three patches, groups of gourd artisans from specific areas who work together. The groups will be displaying a variety of their work, planning demonstrations and answering questions about the quaint little plants and its inedible fruit.

Their planned demonstrations include chip carving, weaving and creating dream catchers that can be attached to gourd crafts. Kirkland said that they will be assisting with the creation of these crafts and will have gourd plants and seeds for sale.

"There'll be so many different types of gourd crafts there," Kirkland said. "Pretty much anything you can imagine doing to a gourd will be there, everything from woodburning to chip carving, woven pieces, painted gourds and bird houses. Just all sorts of things."

Along with the crowd of out-of-town gourd enthusiasts, Wrens Better Hometown organizers expect to see a host of locals who are familiar with the festival.

"We're expecting a big crowd this year," said Wrens City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson. "There's going to be all sorts of things to do and a wide variety of food vendors, everything from seafood to cajun to traditional festival treats."

The festivities actually begin a week early this year with the crowning of the city's gourd princesses this Saturday, March 22. The pageant will be held at Jefferson County High School's auditorium at 7 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children under 12.

Events planned throughout the day of the March 29 festival include a classic car, motorcycle and trike show sponsored by First State Bank, an area for kids amusement rides, a cake walk and another thrilling game of cowpatty bingo.

"We're excited about moving the festival to its new location this year," Johnson said. "Everything is going to be right there together."

The March 29 event is being moved from downtown Wrens to the walking track beside Wrens Middle School.

Entertainment, including singers, dancers and a comedian, will be provided throughout the day from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

"We encourage residents and businesses to begin preparing their gourd displays," Johnson said. "We've had good participation in the past."

To anonmymously nominate anyone's display for inclusion in the annual judging, just call Johnson at the city hall at (706) 547-3000.

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Last modified: March 19, 2003