EPD cites Glit for spill
• Possibly as much as 10,000 gallons of industrial waste water discovered in creek
By Ben Nelms
An investigation that began Feb. 29 relating to the release of as much as 10,000 gallons of industrial wastewater from the Glit/Microtron plant in Wrens into Brushy Branch led to the conclusion that the release was intentional.
"The investigation revealed an act of negligence resulting in a willful, unpermitted discharge of industrial wastewater that was preventable and containable," said Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Program Manager Jeff Darley in a March 5 report obtained under the Georgia Open Records law.
Discharge in the creek
The incident was originally reported Feb. 29 by a property owner who noticed a cloudy blue-green liquid in Brushy Branch east of Wrens. Questioning whether the substance would be injurious to his cattle that drink from the creek, he contacted Wrens city employees Wayne Davis and Walter Hannah.
Their inspection of the creek led to contact with Darley from EPD's Augusta office, Jefferson County Marshal Alan Wasden and Glit Director of Environmental Safety Ben McWhorter after it appeared that the colored liquid originated at the Glit plant. Local and state officials were contacted due to regulatory statutes and enforcement requirements designating creeks and rivers as public domain or "waters of the United States."
As cited in his report, Darley visited the plant at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 29. He noted a blue/green liquid in a containment area, in a 15,000-gallon transportable holding tank and on the ground behind the plant. The liquid is used as a coloring agent in the manufacture of scrub pads for sponges and is non-toxic, according to McWhorter.
He said the blue color was due to an organic pigment used in the manufacturing process.
Darley's report noted the presence of tanks containing blue/green liquid, soil stained with the same liquid that had flowed across the ground to the rear of the property, into a cut ditch and eventually into a wet weather creek on the east side of the property and on into Brushy Branch upstream from where the discharge was first observed. The report noted the placement of two-foot tall dirt mounds, or berms, adjacent to the drainage ditch that would have potentially prohibited the flow from reaching the ditch and wet weather creek. The soil comprising the mounds, or berms, observed Feb. 29 was noticeably different in compaction than the surrounding soil, appearing to have been placed after the discharge occurred. Darley questioned the explanations offered by McWhorter as to how and when the berms were put in place, leading him to conclude that, "It is quite obvious that Mr. McWhorter felt he had something to hide," the report said.
Darley's initial investigation cited other concerns relating to when the spill actually occurred.
"It is also important to note that when Mr. McWhorter arrived (Sunday) he advised that he had just found out that there was a spill and he was not notified prior. Later in the investigation he indicated that he was called early that morning. Then he further changed the story, saying that he was called first thing Saturday morning but was unaware that the spill had left the property," the report said.
In a subsequent meeting with McWhorter and plant General Manager Gordon Kirsch, Darley said they agreed that the spill was preventable and containable. McWhorter and Kirsch added that preliminary in-house findings indicated that the spill was due to operator error, the report said. They added that the spill likely involved no more than 10,000 gallons of industrial wastewater, yet they indicated that the release would have generated approximately 40 gallons per minute for just over one hour, according to the report. At that rate the spill would have sent no more than 3,000 gallons of wastewater toward the creek.
Wrens sewer system
Attempts for contact Kirsch and McWhorter were unsuccessful. A copy of a letter from McWhorter to EPD, also obtained under the Open Records law, addressed the discharge, stating human error and poor shift transfer communication as the cause. He said new measures have been put in place to prevent further releases, including additional training. Implementation of a spill control plan is also under way, "which includes installation of a primary containment system around the tank area and a secondary containment system to prevent spill runoff from entering the facility's storm water ditch," the letter said.
Darley said Monday the findings of the investigation showing that the discharge was willful yet preventable and containable will lead to an enforcement action in coming weeks based on state requirements.
The introduction of wastewater from Glit into the Wrens wastewater treatment system has also caused concerns. City officials said last week that Glit has routinely flushed its wastewater through the city's sewer system in past years, usually on an average of once per month for the past seven years. The wastewater is often blue or reddish-brown in color, due to the pigmentation being used at the plant. Officials said the flush into the sewer had caused potential problems in the past relating to state regulations such as those governing discoloration prior to release from the city's wastewater treatment plant into bodies of water. Since the plant's expansion six months ago, the frequency has increased significantly, to as often as once per day, they said.
In his report, Darley also referenced conversations with Wrens city officials, citing the stress to the city's Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) through spills and sludge discharges. Those releases into the sewer system increases the city's cost in treating wastewater before it can be released into county waterways.
Wrens City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson said the city had drawn up a Sewer Use Ordinance based on a fourfold reason. It is intended to expand the wastewater treatment plant, to address problems in numerous areas, to make the system more effective and to comply with recent regulatory changes. The ordinance went through its first required reading at a council meeting in mid-February, said Johnson.
After being contacted by Glit representatives subsequent to the first reading, the city agreed to amend to provisions of the ordinance, said Johnson. Those included definitions of the excessive additional load provision and of excessive discoloration. The first reading of the amended ordinance is scheduled for March 9.
Johnson said Glit had not released wastewater into the city sewer system from mid-February until March 3. The city sent samples from the latest release for testing and analysis.
Also in February, a spill of approximately 200 gallons of a blue discharge transported for Glit by Augusta Industrial Services occurred at the intersection of Broad Street and Main Street in Wrens. The city cleaned the spill after some of the contents of tanker truck splashed onto street as the truck came to a stop, said Building and Grounds Superintendent Walter Hannah.
Bobby Butts appointed to Jefferson County school board
• Butts fills District 4 seat set to expire in January of 2005
By Ben Nelms
Louisville resident Bobby Butts was appointed Monday to fill the District 4 vacancy on the Jefferson County Board of Education. The appointment was announced after the Jefferson County Grand Jury reconvened earlier in the day.
Grand Jury foreman Frank Gordy said Monday that four residents expressed an interest in the vacant position. Jury members conducted intense interviews of each individual prior to deciding on Butts, he said.
"I believe we did the best job we could. We worked together to get a good replacement, understanding that this person will have to run for the office later this year," said Gordy. "They were all good candidates. I could have been pleased with any of them. I feel they all demonstrated honesty and integrity."
Butts said Monday he looks forward to working with the school board to help raise the education level in Jefferson County. As an instructor in welding technology at the main campus of Sandersville Technical College, Butts cited the continuing trend in industry preferring younger and smarter employees that can accommodate cross-training in a multitasking environment. To meet current and future educational needs, the board must continue to provide students and faculty what they need to meet the future head on, he said.
"I like to work with all people," said Butts in upbeat fashion. "I want to work with the school board to continue the vision for the county, its growth and, above all, its children. Children are our main goal."
Superintendent Carl Bethune said Tuesday he and the school board look forward to working with Butts and continuing their work in providing the best curriculum, faculty and staff they can for the children of Jefferson County.
The term of the District 4 school board seat is set to expire January 2005.
Gordy complemented jury members for their work with the appointment. He cited their willingness and interest in fulfilling the selection process.
The vacancy was created after the resignation of former school board member Belinda Sheram.
Fire in the woods
• Four counties send firefighters to assist forest rangers
By Ben Nelms
Firefighters from four counties took position at Glascock County Consolidated School Sunday evening, poised to assist forest rangers that worked quickly to cut firebreaks and contain a woods fire that charred an estimated 50-75 acres.
The fire began at approximately 3:30 p.m. when a controlled burn at Old Mitchell Road got out of hand, said Georgia Forestry Service Ranger Reggie Morgan. Windy conditions sent sparks across the road, where they quickly turned into flames that moved through the woods directly toward the school.
Rangers used four tractors to cut firebreaks in efforts to contain the rapidly moving flames. Firefighters worked to extinguish burning vegetation along road shoulders and woods roads, said Morgan.
Firefighters and equipment continued to pour in from Gibson/Glascock, Mitchell, McDuffie and Warren counties and from Avera, Stapleton and Wrens. McDuffie EMS was also on the scene.
Like a line drawn in the sand, firefighters took up position in the parking lot adjacent to the school's ball fields.
The school acted as a buffer against the encroaching blaze. Firefighters knew the flames would not reach the school building itself since the ball fields stood in the way. But they were determined to defeat the fire if it broke through the trees adjacent to the ball fields.
The event was a waiting game for several hours, as more than 60 firefighters watched thick smoke fill the sky and pour through the trees next to school property.
GCCS staff ran sprinklers on the ball fields to keep the grass wet in case the flames broke through. By 7 p.m., flames were visible from the school parking lot. But in the end, rangers were able to cut enough firebreaks to contain the blaze.
Gibson/Glascock Fire Chief Frank McGahee said Monday the actions by the many firefighters that responded to the blaze.
"I really appreciate everyone coming in like they did and the time they took standing by to offer their help," he said.
Morgan also spoke of the rapid and thorough response by fire departments from surrounding counties.
"It was a fantastic response by all the departments involved," said Morgan. "The county's emergency management people did their strategic planning and were right on top of things in case evacuations needed to occur."
Morgan said while wind is necessary to accomplish some types of controlled burns, he advised that all precautions be taken.
"It's not that people can't burn during windy conditions once we have issued a permit," he said. "But we do want people to use extreme caution when doing so. That includes being very attentive to the fire, keeping the appropriate areas wetted down and being sure to stay with the fire until it is completely out."