Public notice of a draft permit on Oct. 17 for a wastewater treatment plant in east Liberty County has spawned an electronic protest petition and 20 to 30 letters sent to the state Environmental Protection Division.
The plant has been proposed by the Liberty County Development Authority in its Tradeport East Business Center near Midway. It is to serve Target, IDI, the Tire Rack and future businesses the authority hopes to attract.
The phased proposal from the LCDA is to build the plant to treat two million gallons a day, with a possible expansion to three million gallons.
Opponents are concerned the plant discharge into east Liberty’s Laurel View River will throw the environment out of balance and hurt marine life.
The EPD is required to hold a public hearing if enough locals are opposing a new or expanding facility.
David Bullard, unit manager for the EPD permitting unit, admitted cases like these are roughly one in 20.
“The majority of permits usually don’t generate this much public interest,” Bullard said.
Letters are still being reviewed and locals have until Thursday to submit comment. Then the EPD will decide if a hearing is needed.
When they do decide, another public notice will go out at least 30 days before the hearing so Bullard estimates it may be sometime in January.
“We’ll make the final determination to hold one, and most likely we will, but that hasn’t been a firm decision yet,” Bullard said.
Certain guidelines, including submitting a preliminary design with the discharge location, are needed to obtain a EPD permit.
“We wouldn’t go out with a draft permit if we didn’t think it was up to quality water standards,” Bullard said. “These are fairly stringent limitations in this (LCDA) permit. It’s not anything close to raw wastewater or water from a conventional wastewater treatment plant.”
The plant’s sophistication will be a coastal Georgia trailblazer, according to LCDA CEO Ron Tolley.
“Their concerns are understood because the authority shares their concerns with protecting the environment,” Tolley said. “Once they know the details, then they should be alleviated.”
He said authority members deliberately chose the best technology because of the location.
Spud Woodward, assistant director for marine fisheries for the DNR coastal resources division, said they are also in the process of reviewing the permit.
“The subject is certainly a hot topic,” Woodward said. “In the case of this particular permit application they’re talking about a very large quantity of water.”
He thinks the public has legitimate concerns, but can see some benefits.
“From an ecological standpoint freshwater mixing with saltwater is actually a good thing,” Woodward said. “Our estuarian animals actually need variety to live and grow.”
Dr. James Claiborne, a Georgia Southern University marine biology professor, said “Any kind of pollutants that decrease the oxygen or carbon in the water can affect those fish and what they eat. It’s a very sensitive area so you have to be careful not be change it if possible.”
Wayne Murphy with CH2M Hill, the project’s lead contractor, said the design involves the highest technology available in wastewater treatment.
“We are going to treat the wastewater to an effluent limit, suitable for reuse applications,” Murphy said. “We’re using ultraviolet disinfection to kill any bacteria. That’s opposed to having chlorine gas cylinders.”
The water would not be safe to drink or cook with, but suitable for irrigation.
Tolley also stressed the plant’s ability to reuse water.
“Hopefully there will be very little that needs to discharged to the river because hopefully it will be reused,” Tolley said. “We need to conserve as much water as possible and the water reclamation facility will do that.”
“Regardless of whether we disagree with the plant or not, the authority has really taken the high road in this wastewater plant and to ensure that’s doing the right thing for coastal Georgia and coastal Liberty County,” Murphy said.
He said they hope to have the plant on line by the first quarter of 2010, but realizes hearing may cause delays.
The LCDA has already begun work that doesn’t require permits, including clearing the property and other initial site work, with hopes to immediately precede once they get the permit.
“We don’t anticipate any concerns from EPD about the permit,” Tolley said. “Our intent is to proceed immediately once we obtain the permit approval.”
The hearing could cause the EPD to make changes to the permit, in relation to the plant’s condition and location, but a hearing is unlikely to stop the plant, according to Bullard.