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August 7, 2003 Issue

Fighting the heat and the flames...

Firefighters from Wrens, Stapleton and Matthews battle fire, heat and humidity to lend a much-needed hand July 30 at a house fire on SR 80 inside Burke County. The units respond to the initial call from a cell phone, arriving before six Burke County fire trucks could reach the scene.

Old landfill mitigation begins

A public hearing will be held Aug. 12 to discuss the mitigation and the concerns of contamination in private wells

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Residents concerned with the possible contamination of private wells from a toxic chemical plume originating at the old Jefferson County landfill on Clarks Mill Road in Louisville will soon see action that is years in the making.

A public hearing on the issues will be held Aug. 12 at the courthouse and work to mitigate the contamination is set to begin in the next two weeks.

Commissioners heard a report Aug. 4 from consulting engineers QORE, Inc. on plans to begin mitigation of the plume that has spread underground from landfill property and now comprises more than 50 acres containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as cis-1,2dichloroethene, trichloroethene and vinyl chloride.

The contamination, in terms of migration or area affected, was described last year by Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Geology Unit Coordinator Pete Dasher as the worst case of contamination in the state. QORE representative Curt Gorman affirmed for commissioners Monday that the migration was also the worst he had seen.

The original contamination probably began with the introduction of tetrachloroethylene into the landfill in past years, said Gorman. The compound then broke down into the other chemical by-products.

Method of mitigation

Gorman told commissioners the pilot test to mitigate the contamination will involve a technique called air sparging, a process where quantities of air are injected into the plume. In the specific case of the old landfill, air will be forced into locations in the "hot zone," the area covering numerous acres and containing the greatest concentration of contamination, located due south of the landfill and within an upper acquifer lying 40-60 feet underground.

The presence of the air will stimulate an aerobic process, thereby allowing air to penetrate the denser-than-water chemicals lying at the bottom of the acquifer and stimulate the production of bacteria that will consume the chemicals.

No mention was made of evacuating the gaseous by-product that results from the interaction.

A common process utilized is the installation of a venting shaft to evacuate the vapor produced, according to federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Gorman estimated the cost for the pilot test at $180,000 for the first year. Though less costly in succeeding years, the full scope of mitigation will require a long-term monetary effort. While still not immediately known, Gorman advised commissioners one year ago that the mitigation process could cost the county several hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

The plume actually exists in two layers separated by a layer of clay. One portion of the plume lies in the upper acquifer, the area targeted for mitigation, while the other portion is found in a deeper acquifer approximately 100 feet underground. The pilot test calls for installing a "sparge-line" of wells in the hot zone in an area 100-feet wide. Gorman said QORE will attempt to convince EPD to agree to that width rather than the recommended width of 300 feet. The mitigation process could broaden to a 300-foot wide sparge line if the pilot test proves successful, said Gorman.

Gorman produced charts showing that the majority of the 50-acre plume exists south and southwest of the old landfill, moving under both private and county-owned property past Clarks Mill Road, having moved under the prison camp and adjacent property and as far south as the area around Mathis Spring. The presence of the portion of the plume migrating to the northwest toward residences on Clarks Mill Road thought by EPD and local residents to threaten nearby private wells continues to diminish, said Gorman. Both QORE and some commissioners have maintained for the past two years that the wells are in no danger from contamination even though past water tests from residential wells have shown small quantities of the same VOCs contained in the plume.

Residents and EPD agree

Commissioners recently received a June 13 letter from EPD geologist Steve McManus stating that the county's proposed Corrective Action Plan (CAP) had been approved provided several contingencies were met. The contingencies required that (1) air sparging must include the area implicated in the contamination of the residential wells, (2) the injection of potassium permanganate be retained as a possible mitigation measure, (3) that QORE provide a cost comparison of using potassium permanganate, said by QORE to be cost prohibitive and (4) a public meeting be held to discuss the cost and duration of the remedy and a copy of the meeting minutes be forwarded to EPD within 30 days of the meeting.

The last public hearing on the issue of mitigating the chemical plume was nearly a year ago. The meeting did not satisfy EPD's requirement of full public disclosure of all aspects of the CAP. At the time, EPD had set an Oct. 31, 2002 deadline to have the CAP complete and a public hearing conducted. A number of affected property owners at the September, 2002 public hearing were clearly adamant in their disagreement with the incomplete CAP and the insistence by both QORE and commissioners that the contamination of their wells was not due to the contents of the toxic plume. EPD agreed with residents and subsequently ordered a follow-up public hearing in the June 2003 letter.

Letters between EPD and QORE in the first months of 2003 regarding the CAP showed QORE disagreeing with EPD's contention that the CAP was not complete.

When questioned at the March 11 regular session about the continuing disagreement about the mitigation, most commissioners acknowledged that they had not been provided with copies of the letters between QORE and EPD referencing the delay in approving and implementing the CAP. Only former county administrator James Rogers and Chairman Gardner Hobbs were aware of the letters.

The public hearing will be held Aug. 12 at 6 p.m. at the courthouse in Louisville. The regular session will follow at 7 p.m.

Wrens native charged in Augusta murder

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Former Wrens resident Lamark Grubbs, Jr. was charged last week in Richmond County with malice murder and kidnapping of his stepsister, Augusta resident Ravone Pernell.

Grubbs, 26, was charged with kidnapping, battery and making a false statement in a government matter. A charge of malice murder was added Friday after Grubbs led officers to a location under a bridge on Bobby Jones Freeway where a body believed to be that of the 21 year-old Pernell was found.

The body was scheduled to be autopsied Monday at the state crime lab in Augusta but was transported to the Atlanta facility to be autopsied by a forensic bone specialist due to excessive decomposition, according to Richmond County Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen.

Earlier last week Grubbs acknowledged leaving Pernell's car in a parking deck at University Hospital.

Pernell was last seen July 11 as she left her job at a Kroger grocery store on 15th Street after complaining of feeling ill, according to a Richmond County Sheriff's spokesman. She was a student at Albany State University and was working at the store while on summer break.

Grubbs was convicted of burglary in Jefferson County in May 1995 and received five years probation, according to Jefferson County records. He was convicted of burglary again in June 1997 and sentenced to five years. He entered Phillips State Prison in August 1997 and was released four months later. Grubbs resided in Wrens until moving to Augusta in 2002.

(The reporting of Augusta Chronicle staff writers Jeremy Craig and Preston Sparks contributed greatly to this article.)

Ground broken for new law enforcement center

Sheriff Gary Hutchins says center will be something county can be proud of

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

It took several years of discussion and planning, the approval of voters and endless meetings with architects and contractors. The result of that process culminated Monday with the groundbreaking for the Jefferson County Law Enforcement Center in Louisville.

"It has been a long time coming," said Sheriff Gary Hutchins to a large group of business representatives and elected officials from around the county. "But the law enforcement center will be something the people of Jefferson County can be proud of."

The new center will be located adjacent to Jefferson County Correctional Institute on the U.S. 1 bypass and will house sheriff and magistrate offices, magistrate courtroom, E911 center and a 120-bed jail pod with self-contained steel cells.

Peter Brown Construction Co. Project Manager Keith Leach told commissioners at the work session Monday that his company had verified the proposals of all the accepted bidders for the various project components that totaled $5,374,000.

Commissioners agreed to hold off on the landscaping component until a later date. Only one company bid on that component, offering to do the work for approximately $20,000. The bid will be re-advertised at a later date.

The $5.7 million site preparation and construction approved by commissioners includes an additional amount, not expected to exceed $100,000, for the purchase of items such as desks, chairs and file cabinets. The only other expense approved by the board was a travel reimbursement for a Tallahassee architectural firm CRA not to exceed $5,000.

County project representative James Rogers told commissioners at the close of the Monday meeting that other expenses already incurred or committed will result in a total cost of approximately $6.2 million to open the center. That amount includes expenditures already made or ongoing, such as bond costs and interest payments, soil testing, surveying, payment to former architect candidate Rusty McCall and builder Mark Massee and the local management fee paid to Rogers who is functioning as the county's representative on the project.

The law enforcement center project is funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) passed by voters overwhelmingly in September 2001. Collection began in January 2002 and has a maximum collection period of five years and a monetary ceiling of $6.5 million. Collections will cease when the first of either criterion is met.

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