Dispatch from Washington County: Oct 6th EPD Hearing

Posted on October 12, 2009 by


Written by Lyle Lansdall, with contributions from Katherine Cumming (www.facenvironment.org)

I attended the October 6th Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Hearing for Plant Washington in Sandersville.  There were approximately 150 people from across the state attending.

Oct 6 EPD Hearing Sandersville 3Five EPD staffers were seated at a table to the left of a large screen on stage and three Power4Georgian (P4G) spokesmen were seated at a table on the right.  The meeting was filmed and recorded.  The EPD staff presented in turn on solid waste, site suitability, the water withdrawal application, discharge to the river, geological models of Twiggs Clay and Cretaceous aquifers, simulations of well operation and drawdowns at different locations and times, and air permit pollution control measures.  The presentations were highly technical.  They concluded by saying that since the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the EPD regarding CO2 and plant design issues, plans for Plant Washington will proceed.

Four local politicians spoke. Early on, both Mayor Andrews of Sandersville and Washington County Commission Chair Tommy Walker thanked the EPD for their presentation and said they were very glad that Plant Washington is going to bring jobs to the county.  Tommy Walker announced that the Trojan Battery Company closed that day, ending 50 Washington County jobs in one blow.  Later Georgia Representative Mack Jackson repeated the theme, saying Plant Washington jobs were needed.  Only Sandersville Council member Mayme Dennis voiced a question, concerning the transport of coal and waste, saying that debris can blow off trucks and the railroad goes right through some Sandersville neighborhoods.  She said she would pursue more information about the rail transport from Mr. Ben, meaning Ben Tarbutton Jr., who was seated nearby.

Many good questions were asked and points made by citizens of the county and interested students and professional environmentalists who traveled some distance to attend.  A lifelong Washington County resident, Larry Warthen, who is also the Vice-President of the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), asked about the ash waste.  Follow-up comments referred to the heavy metals in the ash. The EPD stated that the ash will be stored dry after it is washed using the same water over and over again and that the ash pile will have a liner under it. Later, a resident who lives near Jordan Pond expressed concerned about whether Williamson Swamp Creek and an adjacent pond will be safe to swim and fish in if the plant is built.

The President of FACE, Katherine Cummings asked whether there are truly 6 EMCs still involved or whether the Pataula EMC is really a subsidiary of Cobb EMC. She said it isn’t clear how many independent partners are involved in P4G because Cobb EMC employees can’t direct questions to a Pataula EMC office, which is listed as part of Cobb EMC. She raised additional questions about the financial burden that small EMC partners will bear as members of P4G.

Cathy Mayberry, a FACE Board Member, expressed concern about the cone of depression around well J near her family’s farm and home. Geologist Jim Kennedy explained that the layer of Twiggs Clay in that area would provide “an effective separation” and with technical terminology explained that there would be no problems resulting from repeated water withdrawals.

Midge Sweet of Georgians for Smart Energy asked about compensation for people whose wells go dry and for hospital facilities to care for poor health effects that will occur as a result of air and water quality if the plant if built. There was an ambiguous reply to the well question and I think no answer regarding the hospital facilities, health outcomes, and medical care expenses for individuals and families impacted by plant emissions.

I’ve had a nagging feeling since the meeting, but wasn’t sure it was valid until today when I talked to someone who is doing some construction work for me on my family farm.  He said he thought the EPD and P4G may as well have all sat at the same table on stage, because it seemed that they were one group – in the business of selling the plant to the public.  I had been thinking – why couldn’t FACE have had a table up there to present our side of the issues? In fact, why wasn’t FACE or any other groups opposed to the plant allowed to present to the public this week or in the spring during the first EPD sponsored meeting here? Doesn’t the state have a responsibility to provide more than one perspective to an issue if it is conducting a hearing or reviewing an application which requires public input?  It did not feel like this hearing was set up to be a democratic process.

My friend also said the presentation was too perfect. It was as if everything is going to go as they said, and he thought that can’t be true.  These are computer models they presented, and there should be some room for error.  And he said, “Where did they get the money to do the ‘most sophisticated modeling ever done in Georgia.” as the EPD said they had.

This friend proposed that we ask:  How much power is currently generated in Georgia and exported to other states?  Are there sources that the EMCs could buy power from that they have not explored. (Santee Cooper in South Carolina, which was used until a few weeks ago by P4G as a best practice model for Plant Washington, has apparently discovered they could buy power cheaper than they could build a new plant.)

Other questions we can ask before the Oct 27th deadline:
EPD said there will be a lining under the landfill that will contain the coal ash.  What is the life of that lining?  Is everyone aware that the lining under the Washington County landfill is currently leaking.  How close will the ash pile be to Williamson Swamp Creek?

Seth Gunning, a member of Cobb EMC and a student leader in energy efficiency and innovative production options, has raised this question: If we divide all the jobs that Power4Georgians claim will be created (1400 construction jobs and 128 long term jobs) by the cost of the plant, $2.1 billion at the least, I estimate the investment in our natural resources and financial burden on Washington County residents, Washington EMC members, and P4G partners, to be $130,2931,500 per job? Can’t we do better than that?

Lyle Lansdell, Sandersville resident and FACE member
also with contributions from Katherine Cummings

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