A Gourd-geous weekend for a festival
Hundreds gathered last week at the fourth annual Wrens Better Home Town Gourd Festival. A record number of nearly 65 vendors attended and set up their booths at this year's new location, around the walking track adjacent to Wrens Middle School. Festivities included arts and crafts, cake walks, continuous music, cow patty bingo, live entertainment, kids rides, a car and trike show, bingo and an assortment of food vendors. For scenes from this year's festival see page 1B.
Taking the reins.
• New county administrator Paul C. Bryan begins work
By Ben Nelms
It was a busy first week for Jefferson County's new administrator. Paul C. Bryan expects to use his experience in similar positions during the past decade to help meet the current challenges facing Jefferson County.
The former county administrator of White and Screven counties said he is currently reviewing the total operations of the county including budgets for the past five years and all active contracts held by the county. The review is not designed to be one that results in sweeping changes, but rather to gain an understanding of the current status of the various facets of county government and the way those areas impact both county employees and residents.
"By gaining an understanding of the operation I can better assist as a resource for citizens and employees," he said.
Speaking from a personal perspective that encompasses both management philosophy and pragmatism, Bryan said the role of county administrator is one that should help facilitate a team approach that involves everyone.
"The decision making process I'll use will be one that solicits input from citizens, employees and commissioners," he said. "I want to use that input to approach Jefferson County's future as a team."
Bryan also comes to Jefferson County familiar with the complex environmental issues faced by governments and prepared to take a role in addressing local ones.
"We are in a new age," he said. "Citizens and governments today recognize that everything we do effects our environment. What we do may be good or bad, but everything effects the environment."
Commission Chairman Gardner Hobbs said Monday that the transition period necessitating an overlap between Bryan and retiring administrator James Rogers would be determined by commissioners.
Bryan served as administrator in White County from 1999-2002, supervising the county's 180 employees and administering a $9.8 million budget. He served in the same position in Screven County from 1994-1999, operating with a $6.2 million budget and supervising 115 employees. He worked with Georgia Dept. of Corrections after serving two tours with the U.S. Army. He served as warden of a 139-bed prison in Sylvania and as deputy warden of a 196-bed prison in Odum.
Bryan holds both an MBA and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Breneau Professional College in Gainesville. He served in the military in New Mexico and in Alaska, where he also lived for 13 years.
Forstmann cleanup is ongoing
• Flint Logistic's plan is to deal with environmental issues in a safe manner, said co-owner Charles Westberry
By Ben Nelms
It has been more than three years since the Forstmann textile plant outside Louisville closed its doors.
Since that time the former owner filed bankruptcy, the property was sold and new owners Flint Logistics Management LLC began re-vamping the facility. But present today are some of the same questions about environmental contamination that surfaced more than two years ago.
Numerous documents obtained under the Georgia Open Records Law relating to the environmental issues at the site revealed that the Flint property was placed on Georgia Environmental Protection Division's (EPD) Hazardous Sites Inventory (HSI) due to a Feb. 10 letter from EPD Director Harold Reheis to co-owner Charles Westberry. The letter followed an Oct. 24, 2002 Administrative Order issued by Reheis giving Flint a Dec. 30, 2002 deadline to meet the requirements mandated. In a Feb. 10, 2003 letter, Reheis provided Flint 45 days to meet further EPD requirements.
The Administrative Order and subsequent HSI listing came after numerous letters exchanged between EPD and Flint subsequent to the company's purchase of the Forstmann property. In letters to EPD, Flint requested several time extensions in submitting to EPD's requests for data. In a June 24, 2002 letter, Flint maintained that it had "no duty to submit a release notification since wastewater pond #2 (a part of the facility's wastewater treatment plant) is excluded from notification under an inactive permit," according to EPD's October 2002 Administrative Order. Flint was given the Dec. 30 deadline to comply. Flint complied with the deadline and, according to the Feb. 10 letter from Reheis, was placed on the HSI list because "it has been determined that a release exceeding a reportable quantity has occurred at this site."
Westberry said Monday that Flint met EPD's 45-day requirement. He said the company is working with EPD to assess any possible problems. The site received a Class 2 HSI rating due to the testing results that Flint initiated and supplied to EPD, he said.
"Flint was aware this site could have environmental issues associated with it," said Westberry. "Our plan was and still is to deal with them in a safe manner. Flint has professional people retained to guide us through this process and identify any possible problems. They are already working on a compliance study report that will show any problems and what corrective action, if any, needs to be taken and address them."
HSI ratings range from Class 1 to Class 4, according to Atlanta EPD Environmental Engineer Trey Cantrell. A Class 1 rating applies to sites, for example, with a release of contamination into groundwater or drinking water supplies. A Class 2 rating is assigned to every site upon its initial listing on the HSI inventory. Class 3 sites are those in compliance with standards and Class 4 indicates sites where corrective action is being conducted or has been completed, said Cantrell.
The issue over contamination at the site began prior to Flint's purchase, while the property was up for sale after Forstmann filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The environmental problems were first noted on an incident report filed in January 2001 by Jefferson County Marshal Alan Wasden while checking a timber harvest permit. A New York bankruptcy court had ordered trees to be cut to help offset some of Forstmann's debts. Wasden found a partial break in the 47-foot wide berm separating the two wastewater treatment containment ponds used as part of the plant's wastewater treatment facility. The result was a continuous discharge of untreated wastewater from pond #1 into pond #2. The discharge caused the water level in pond #2 to become elevated enough to cause a continuous overflow of untreated water across a water-soaked area, a containment pond filled-in years earlier, and into the Ogeechee River less than 200 yards away. An internal EPD memo forwarded to The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter in 2001 by EP
D Unit Manager Mike Creason referred to the discharge from pond #2 as a sheet flow. Water from a drainage pipe located at the southeast corner of pond #2 was also flowing continuously over the saturated area and into the Ogeechee.
Water samples taken at the time from containment pond #1 by Savannah EPD Environmental Engineer Steve Liotta were determined to be more acidic than allowed by Forstmann's wastewater discharge permit. Test samples showed a pH level of 4.0. Test results showed levels of trichloroethene at .150 milligrams per liter (mg/L) compared to the EPA maximum contaminant level set at .005 mg/L for drinking water. Test results also revealed the level of cis-1,2-dichloroethene at .094 mg/L compared to the EPA standard of .07 mg/L. EPA documentation suggests that drinking small amounts of trichloroethene for long periods may cause liver and kidney damage, nervous system effects, impaired immune system function and impaired fetal development in pregnant women.
Unexplained at the time of testing in 2001 and still unknown today is why the VOC's were present in the water more than two years after the plant ceased operation.
"The VOCs should have volatilized (evaporated) by now," said EPD Program Manager I Al Frazier in a March 2001 interview. "It's not so much the (test sample) levels. It's that they should not be in the water. This is a red flag for us. It makes us think they may be coming from a groundwater source."
The current, ongoing interaction between EPD and Flint is a continuation of the state's need to determine the answers to questions that have lingered since 2001.
The textile plant opened in 1962 by J. P. Stevens Company. Forstmann & Company later purchased the property and operated it until closing its doors in January 1999. Forstmann filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 1999 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.
In December 1999 the Jefferson County Commission hired Dunwoody-based Highland Engineering to conduct a Phase I environmental site assessment study of the property in hopes of attracting Crider Poultry to locate at the plant. The Phase I findings stated that no violations had been found for the discharge of wastewater into the Ogeechee River but did note that, according to Forstmann personnel, the solids from the wastewater containment ponds "had never been removed and that no testing of water or solids from the ponds had been conducted." The ponds, likely to be unlined, were thought to have been in use for an excess of 30 years.
The Phase I study cited documentation from EPD indicating the presence of an industrial landfill, operated from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, located behind the plant in an area between the electric power substation and the wastewater treatment plant. Little was able to be determined about the landfill, as "there was no information available that described the material disposed or general method of operation."
The Phase I also cited the presence of significant confirmed and suspected asbestos containing material (ACM) as well as old fluorescent light fixtures, 20 to 40 years old, suspected to contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Highland recommended to the commission, based on the findings, that a more thorough Phase II study be conducted.
In February 2000, the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC) agreed to attempt to purchase the Forstmann property with the hopes of turning it into an industrial park. In May 2000, economic developer Brad Day said DAJC, who had shared the Phase I results with Crider, was attempting to negotiate with Crider Poultry for the release of the Phase II study commissioned by the company in December 1999. Crider had subsequently decided to locate its plant in another area.
The Phase II study would provide information on the installation of soil borings and groundwater monitoring wells needed by DAJC to help make a determination whether to purchase the property.
"If any environmental cleanup is required we would definitely need to know what kinds of funds we are talking about prior to the purchase of the property," Day said in a May 2000 interview.
In August 2000, DAJC decided against purchasing the Forstmann property "after careful review of the authority's finances and after a closer review of the property," Day said.
He cited several reasons why DAJC had decided not to purchase and market the property. Those reasons included the geographical location of the site in relation to local transportation arteries, the unusual power substation, the $1.8 million price listed for the property and the economic outlook of the county. Day also acknowledged the rumors of potential environmental concerns but said he was not aware of the potential size or scope of any environmental issues at the site.
In April 2001, Georgia Assistant Attorney General Oscar Fears, III wrote New York attorneys for the FSMN Liquidation Corporation, the company set up to handle the Forstmann bankruptcy, informing them that the cleanup of the Louisville property was estimated at $450,000.
In July 2001, Crawford County-based Flint Logistics Management LLC was incorporated. In December 2001, Flint was approved by the New York bankruptcy judge for the purchase of the 388-acre Forstmann property, including the 146,000 square-foot plant building, for a price of $202,500. Flint took possession of the property in January 2002.
EPD has tried unsuccessfully for more than two years to obtain a copy of the Phase II study from both Crider and Forstmann.
Store focuses on the needs of Latino residents
• El Mercado is county's first ethnic-oriented convenience store
By Ben Nelms
Esta es la primera para Jefferson County.
This is a first for Jefferson County.
The first came at the end of March and in the form of El Mercado Latino or The Latin Store, located in Louisville adjacent to Snider's Finance Company. It is the county's first known ethnic-oriented convenience store. But from the looks of things, the opening in late March represented only the beginning for successfully providing products targeting more than just the area's growing Latino population.
Customers in the first week include local Latino and non-Latino residents.
Conceived to be more than a small neighborhood convenience store, El Mercado Latino carries kitchen supplies, Spanish birthday party supplies, card games and a variety of Mexican, Honduran, Puerto Rican and Columbian foods, said store manager and Louisville resident Sonalis Flores.
"We are here for more than the Latin community and everyone in the community," she said. "We want people to be exposed to the many flavors and varieties of Spanish food. A part of what we do is to give our customers an orientation on how to cook using the different foods as well as giving free recipes."
Though Flores is already seeing a broad base of customers, she said the primary inspiration for opening the business was to cater the county's growing Latino population.
"We have a lot of Mexicans and other Latinos in Jefferson County," she said. "It's important for them to be able to have access to products they are familiar with, products from their own cultures. It's difficult to cook the kinds of foods you've been accustomed to without a source for purchasing those foods."
Flores said she is already getting requests for additional types of food and merchandise and she is developing plans to meet those requests.
"I know this is just the beginning," she said. "I can see that it's going to grow fast and it's going to get bigger. This is a different kind of convenience store and we will be sure to carry a little bit of everything."
It is exciting to see the diversity of our own local community expressed in local businesses, said Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce President Brad Day.
El Mercado Latino is open Tuesday-Thursday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 6 p.m.