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March 15, 2012 Issue

EPD holds hearing on biomass project
Wadley votes to settle freeport suit
Jefferson campus on list to be closed
Chamber of Commerce gives annual report

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EPD holds hearing on biomass project

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

More than 150 people gathered to question the health risks associated with the potential air emissions of a biomass cogeneration power plant currently being proposed for construction near Wadley.

Overwhelmingly, the sentiment from those who chose to make public comment last Thursday was opposed to North Star Jefferson Renewable Energy’s proposal to build and operate a power plant that will use 80 percent woody biomass, primarily from untreated wood scraps, and 20 percent tire derived fuel (TDF) to generate around 24 MW of electricity that will be contracted to Georgia Power.

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Citizens cited concerns about environmental racism, the plant’s less than 2-mile upwind proximity to Carver Elementary School and Williamson Swamp Creek. Others claimed that EPA standards are too low, that monitors haven’t worked in the past at other industries and that some of the more dangerous emissions, such as ultrafine particulates, are not even monitored.

However, Eric Cornwell, program manager for EPD’s Air Protection Branch Stationary Source Permitting Program explained that from the hearing held Thursday only the comments regarding air quality issues would be considered in his department’s final determination.

“We’re only concerned with the regulations we have,” Cornwell said. “We don’t look at water issues, land issues or popularity issues. We are just here to enforce the rules made by someone else (the federal EPA).”

For the last several months EPD has reviewed North Star’s draft air emissions permit and will now consider public comment before making its final decision on whether to issue it.

“We would not issue a permit if we thought they could not meet the standards,” Cornwell told the crowd.

Before the hearing Cornwell explained the permitting process and described both the amount of proposed emissions and the air pollution control measures North Star intends to implement.

Under the proposed permit it can emit 67 tons of particulate matter, 225 tons of SO2, 244 tons of NOx, 123 tons of CO, 17 tons of volatile organic compounds, nine tons of HCl and 99,000 tons of greenhouse gases (mostly CO2).

To control these emissions the plant has said it intends to use a dry scrubber, electrostatic precipitator, selective catalytic reduction, a continuous opacity monitoring system, periodic stack tests and a continuous emissions monitoring system.

Cornwell said that after running computer models predicting emissions, it appears that all of the plant’s emissions will be below the EPA standards.

“They were below, and I don’t just mean below, but well below the EPA’s air quality standards,” Cornwell said.

Citizens like Charles Lewis, a member of the Jefferson Environmental Defense Initiative, took issue with EPD’s claims, saying that they believe the plant should be considered a major source of pollution and be held to stricter standards.

Cornwell explained that because the emissions are all below EPA emission limits, then EPD cannot require the plant to use Best Available Control Technology (BACT), as Lewis suggested. However, Cornwell said that in some cases, the technology the plant is planning to use could be considered BACT for certain emissions.

“A lot of the technology they are using is what we would recommend as BACT,” Cornwell said.

Public Comment
During the pre-hearing meeting Robert Morris, of Bartow, asked about ambient air quality monitoring and Antonio Gaines asked if there is no ambient testing, then how is a baseline of local air quality established.

Cornwell explained that the plant will increase pollution, but that since the plant is so small, its levels of emissions do not require a baseline be determined, as it would for a larger plant.

Juanita Tarver asked directly if the plant would cause more problems with asthma or COPD or have other negative effects on residents.

Cornwell answered by saying that EPD considers emissions from the stack itself, where the emissions are at their absolute highest concentration.

“All of these values were significantly below what EPA has set as minimal risk,” Cornwell said.

Janice Turner told Cornwell, “It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand…tell us what you are going to do to protect the environment, workers and people in general.”

During the public comment period, EPD heard from several individuals who have fought biomass energy projects in other places. It heard from individuals who live near the proposed site who oppose the project.

Representatives of the U.S. Endowment for Agriculture and Communities, an investor in the project, talked about how it plans to reinvest its earnings back into the community and how this project is designed to support the local forestry-based economy.

Two different pediatricians spoke about the dangers associated with emissions from wood-burning plants and their ill effects on the developing lungs of children.

What’s Next
EPD will be receiving comments on the North Star air quality permit application and draft permit until March 23 by mail at 4424 International Parkway, Suite 120 Atlanta, GA 30354 or by email at eric.cornwell@gadnr.org.

Cornwell said his office has received 10 more emailed comments a day since the hearing.

Based on the comments received so far, Cornwell said he expects his office to be able to review all comments and make a decision on the air permit a couple of weeks after the March 23 deadline.

“But that depends entirely on the comments,” he said. “That could be extended.”

If the permit is granted and then appealed, the issue becomes a legal one, Cornwell said, and it will go to the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings and will go before an administrative law judge.

“I’m glad everyone has an interest in this,” Cornwell said. “I want to assure you that we are going to do everything to make sure that all regulations are met, regardless of the popularity of the decision. Those regulations are set to be protective of human health.”




Wadley votes to settle freeport suit

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

After a closed executive session during a called meeting Friday, March 2, Councilman Beth Moore said, “I make a motion that we settle the lawsuit.”

The motion passed unanimously.

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Betty Williams-Kirby, an area lawyer hired by the city to respresent them in a lawsuit filed by four local businesses was present during the closed meeting.

In a suit filed Sept. 2, 2011 in Jefferson County Superior Court, the businesses, Battle Lumber, Cooper Machine, Fulghum Industries and Rachels Machine and Fabrication, named the City of Wadley; its mayor, Herman Baker; and each of the city’s five council members as defendants.

At issue are monies the businesses say are owed them because of a failure to receive a Freeport tax exemption.

The Freeport exemption was authorized by local referendum about 10 years ago, but never implemented.

Although the referendum was passed, the exemption was not given by the city nor was it applied for by the companies. The law allows the companies to go back only three years to ask for compensation from not having received the exemption.

Specifics of the settlement have not been announced.

Sallie Adams, Wadley’s city clerk, said Tuesday the city had not yet been informed if the settlement has been concluded.

Calls to Williams-Kirby and Bill Keogh, who represents the businesses, were unreturned as of press time Tuesday.




Jefferson campus on list to be closed

By Carol McLeod
Apprentice

The Jefferson County Center of Oconee Fall Line Technical College is listed as one of many campuses under consideration for closing by the Technical College System of Georgia.

The list, which calls the move shuttering, includes 17 other technical colleges. The standard is for those campuses with less than 200 FTE, or full time equivalent enrollment numbers.

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“What they’re looking at fulltime equivalent is 12 credit hours, all are semester. All the credits and the semesters carry the same weight so that’s all uniform,” Beth Crumpton, provost with the Oconee Fall Line Technical College, said in an interview earlier this month.

“Let me give you an example,” she said. “If you have a student that takes only three credit hours, that’s one course. Typically, it takes four students that are taking three credits to equal a full time student.”

Crumpton said three of the college’s satellite campuses are under consideration for shuttering.

“Our Jefferson campus is the strongest of the three,” she said. “We need the money; and, all this is because of shortfalls in budget. So we’ve asked our legislative representatives to do what they can to help us get the money in the budget for the Jefferson Center and we’re also working to increase enrollment numbers.”

Crumpton pointed out the Jefferson County campus has an FTE of 142.

“The goal is 200. We’re not too terribly off in that,” she said. “We’ve encouraged those that feel strongly about that to contact their local representative.”

Dr. Donnie Hodges, a Jefferson County Board of Education assistant superintendent, said Tuesday that shuttering is just another word for closing.

“It literally means closing,” she said. “What the technical college is hoping, from my understanding, is that the list wouldn’t be taken as a whole.

“Jefferson is pretty viable because of our dual enrollment. Everyone has lost enrollment.”

Hodges said the hope is that the legislature will consider each campus separately rather than simply taking the list as a whole.

“We were trying to make people aware that it is tentative on these satellite campuses,” she said.

Hodges said citizens can work to try to keep the campus open.

“Contact the legislators and also just keep advocating for the school,” she said. “Look for every opportunity to support the school. Encourage people to go. It’s just so many things that happened at one time. The HOPE cuts have really hurt.”

Crumpton said the final decision has not yet been made.

“I really don’t look to hear anything else probably until the next six weeks or so at best,” she said earlier this month.

“Ultimately, if that decision were to be made, because we’re committed to those students, we would go through what we call a teach-out process. That can take a year or so. We feel, I feel good about the Jefferson Center. I really do. If we can just get the money in the budget. We need people to come and enroll in the programs and take advantage of the great opportunities that we have there at the Jefferson Center,” Crumpton said.

“Even if we make it through this legislative session it’s probably always going to be an issue. The fact that we’re small, we’ll probably be small. The school system is doing everything it can to support enrollment,” Hodges said.

The list of college campuses with less than 200 FTE include Worth County Campus in Moultrie with 3 FTEs and a listed potential savings of $33,972.

The Jefferson County Center is the second highest, with its 142 FTE and a potential savings of $424,475.

The school closest to the 200 FTE benchmark is Cook County Workforce Development Center in Wiregrass. That campus has an FTE of 189 and a listed potential savings of $534,633.




Chamber of Commerce gives annual report

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

During the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet Monday, Feb. 27, Chamber President Lil Easterlin said the chamber is up about 6 percent in membership dollars and up about 10 percent in members.

“About 35 percent (of expenses) goes back into the community,” she said.

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“About 35 percent (of expenses) goes back into the community,” she said.

“We get a little bit of money. We spend almost all of it,” Easterlin said.

One of the positive things Easterlin mentioned was the Jefferson County Information Center. She said the center provides a variety of services for businesses, including graphic design.

In an interview March 6, Easterlin said the information center works to provide information to visitors and others in the community on what’s going on.

“It’s information for tourists and local citizens, a lot of tourism information and a lot of quality of life information. Businesses can put their rack cards and brochures there,” she said.

“The other section, that is graphic design. They’re concentrating on supporting non-profit organizations in the county. They will do some design work for businesses as well. They don’t do printing, but do the design work. They work off donations, not a fee,” Easterlin said.

“We did not have Leadership Jefferson County. We did not have a legislative breakfast,” she said during the banquet, adding that was a disappointment.

She said the chamber worked with state officials on how the state is not being competitive in attracting business and how this can be improved.

“It was a statewide initiative on increasing competitiveness for the state of Georgia,” she said in her interview.

“We kicked off a new program called, ‘Drugs Don’t Work,’” Easterlin said. Businesses that participate in this program can receive a 7 and a half percent discount on their workman’s compensation insurance premiums, she said.

“We did a lot of ribbon cuttings,” she said.

Easterlin said the chamber doubled its personnel by adding one new employee, Cathleen Clark.

Easterlin said the night of the banquet was Clark’s fourth day on the job.

Clark is the chamber’s program coordinator, Easterlin said.

“We have dealt with Thermo King closing,” she said, adding the chamber has had meetings with management and with employees.

She talked about PyraMax announcing its intention to build a plant in the Kings Mill Industrial Park and said this will bring $120 million into the community.

She talked about the ways in which the various governments in the area came together to help make this happen.

“I can’t speak for the development authority,” she said. “I not only have the right to speak for the chamber, I have the obligation.”

She said she thought the last industry to come to Jefferson County as a new business and not simply expanding an existing business was Johnny Cat.

“That was before I even got here,” she said.

She talked about the importance of having infrastructure in place to attract new business and about applying for and getting grants to help with projects.

“They’re not going to give us a grant to build a road that goes nowhere but through a cornfield. It’s not going to happen,” she said.

“We’re pro business,” Easterlin said. “We’re for economic growth.”

In the interview, the chamber president said there are about 100 members in the chamber.

“We stay probably just under 100,” she said.

The annual membership fees range from less than $100 to more than $400.

“It’s based on employment. The banks and the utilities have a different rate scale. The more people you employ in the county, the higher your dues are. A shop in downtown Louisville for example might pay $75. The rate for a non-profit is $50. The highest rate currently is $425,” Easterlin said.

“Anybody with a business license can apply for membership,” she said.

Easterlin said members are eligible to participate in a variety of classes the chamber offers.

“We offer Lunch and Learn,” she said. “I would have a guest speaker come in and talk about things that effect business, such as labor law. One of the biggest benefits for small businesses would be health insurance to offer your employees. You can get that with a group rate if you have three people.”

The chamber is located at 302 East Broad St. in Louisville and is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. They do not close for lunch. For more information, contact the chamber at 478-625-8134.

“I would love for people to want to be involved in their community and want to be involved with the chamber and want to support a pro business organization,” Easterlin said.




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