EPD Signs Wilbros Consent Order; Court Hearing Today in Civil Suit

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has finalized a consent order with Wilbros.

The EPD signed the consent order on Monday with the Rose Lane facility at the center of controversy over complaints of excessive odor coming from the facility.

According to EPD Assistant Director Jim Ussery, the final consent order that will be implemented includes a number of amendments made after public comments on the proposed consent order.

Ussery said one of the amendments will prohibit Wilbros from accepting certain types of waste.

“The EPD has prohibited the company from accepting the following waste streams: agricultural mortalities; road kill; all septage, including septic tanks and holding tank material from sanitary sewage; portable toilet waste; and a material known as bovine paunch, which comes from a slaughterhouse,” said Ussery.

According to Ussery, the order requires Wilbros to stop accepting that waste within 14 days.

Ussery did say that Wilbros in the future may request authorization to again accept those types of waste.

However, he said the EPD would only allow that after Wilbros could satisfactorily show it could receive and manage waste while controlling the odor.

“It would be a pretty high bar for them to evaluate it and show us,” said Ussery. “If they could do it in an enclosed vessel with off gas treatment or a bio-filter, then it might be possible, but we will be measuring the odors to make sure that they can do it.”

Meanwhile, Ussery said the amended consent order also includes a number of other amendments.

“In addition, EPD is requiring Wilbros to submit a comprehensive plan that is prepared by a registered professional engineer to implement upgrades to the facility, which will include in-vessel composting, which is totally enclosed composting, and other engineered systems and best management practices to reduce and control odors from the receiving area and the composting area,” said Ussery. “This includes a comprehensive testing and odor evaluation. We are also requiring aeration of the storm water pond at the compost pile.”

Ussery said Wilbros has 30 days to add aeration to the storm water pond in the composting area and up to six months to make some of the other upgrades to the facility.

In addition, the final consent order includes all of the requirements first placed in the proposed consent order.

Those include Wilbros making improvements to its wastewater treatment system, including an investment in an impervious cover over the primary treatment pond with a gas collection system and a flare system to properly burn off gases. According to Ussery, Wilbros has 14 weeks from the date it signed the initial proposed consent order back in October to install that.

The order also includes implementation of a Design Development Report to give EPD an enforceable plan for operation of the wastewater system and a Compost Design and Operation Plan to establish procedures for accepting compostable wastes.

The final consent order also still includes third-party odor evaluation and odor monitoring on a weekly basis.

Ussery said that it is important to measure the odor as part of the process.

“Part of the problem that you have with odor is it affects people in different ways,” said Ussery. “We are trying to get a way to quantitatively evaluate the odors. If I can put a number on it, let’s say it is one to ten, I could say you cannot have anything there that has an odor above a two. Then we would have a way to read it, rather than having somebody say ‘that smells really bad to me’ and somebody else say that does not smell as bad (or) whatever.”

Wilbros is also required to pay the EPD a $25,000 negotiated settlement in six equal monthly installments. That remains unchanged from the proposed consent order despite some calls by the public at a hearing last month for a higher fine.

Ussery said that the EPD believes this final consent order will provide solutions to the odor problem.

“All of the things that we have laid out in the order go beyond what some facility like this might be required to do, but since they are in a populated area, then they need to take these actions,” said Ussery. “I do think it will control the odors. In fact, I know we will control the odors ultimately.”

Ussery went on to say that the EPD will take further action down the road if it is deemed necessary.

He also said that the EPD appreciates all of the public comments made on the consent order.

Meanwhile, a court hearing in the civil suit filed by Stephens County and others against the Wilbros facility is set for this morning.

That hearing is scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. today regarding a motion made by the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction against Wilbros.

Stephens County, the city of Toccoa, Stephens County School System, and Concerned Citizens of Toccoa-Stephens County, LLC filed suit in July against Wilbros and associated defendants over the odor.

The suit alleges that the odor from the Wilbros’ facility is so strong that it interferes with the commercial, residential, economic, and aesthetic interests of the community, as well as causing health issues. Wilbros and the other defendants have asked the court to dismiss all of the suit’s claims and deny all of the allegations asserted by the plaintiffs in the suit.

Judge Robert Adamson will hear the case. He was appointed after both sitting Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court judges, Russell Smith and Chan Caudell, recused themselves from the case in order to avoid any appearance of the absence of impartiality in the case.