Judge Modifies Court Order in Wilbros Case

A modified court order is taking effect immediately in the Stephens County vs. Wilbros civil suit case.

The two sides met before Judge Robert Adamson for an all-day hearing Thursday in Stephens County Superior Court.

Thursday’s hearing included statements from both attorneys, as well as testimony from Wilbros’ owner Joe Wilbanks, two Georgia Environmental Protection Division officials, and an expert on composting from the University of Georgia.

During the hearing, Judge Adamson told both sides he wanted to know why there was a continuing odor problem and what could be done to try to alleviate it short of a 300-day timeline for in-vessel composting, or composting done in an enclosed facility, proposed by Wilbros.

The judge and attorneys for both sides agreed on a modified court order that would shorten that 300-day timeline where possible, including shortening the timeline for a pilot in-vessel composting program at the Rose Lane facility.

Also, the modified order will require Wilbros to place both permeable covers and woodchip covers over the outdoor compost rows within 10 days, as well as increase the carbon-nitrogen ratio in the composting process.

Finally, the modified order will mandate Wilbros to decrease the amount of chicken skin and fat waste being used on the compost pad by 30 percent.  The order will also state that if Wilbros misses any deadlines in the order, it must decrease that chicken skin and fat waste by another 20 percent.

All of these were recommendations made by an expert witness called by the plaintiffs.

Don Stack, representing Stephens County and the other plaintiffs, said he is pleased with the outcome of today’s hearing.

“I think the judge is acutely aware of the concerns of the citizens and rightfully is considering the impacts to all the parties,” said Stack.

In remarks made during the hearing, Judge Adamson said he knows there is an odor problem and he knows citizens are tired of it.

However, the judge also said he is “not going to pull the economic plug” and shut the facility down at this time.

Wilbros’ attorney, Steven Gilliam, said he is satisfied with where the judge stands.

“Obviously, we are pleased that the judge understands the economics of the situation as well as the sensitivity of the neighbors and he is balancing those two interests,” said Gilliam, who called what the judge came up with a “very good proposal.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Dr. K.C. Das, a composting expert from the University of Georgia, testified that he feels many of the steps that are ending up in the modified order should help reduce odors from the Wilbros facility, specifically the compost piles.

Das said chicken skin and fat is very odorous in composting and hard to work with and reducing the amount of that in compost should reduce total odor production.

Meanwhile, he also said that while in-vessel composting will control odors better than composting out in the open, odors can be somewhat controlled on outdoor composting by raising the carbon-nitrogen ratio to slow bacterial decomposition that causes odor and adding permeable covers to the compost to reduce the amount of gas and air that comes off of the composting material.

The court also heard from Ted Hendrickz and Jeff Cown with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division Thursday.

Both men have been involved with inspecting the Wilbros facility in regards to Environmental Protection Division regulations, including the consent order Wilbros agreed to with the EPD in December.

That consent order laid out steps for Wilbros to take that EPD officials said at the time they felt would help reduce the odor.

During his testimony, Hendrickz confirmed that the EPD was working on a notice of violation against Wilbros, but did not go into detail, stating he could not discuss details of an ongoing enforcement action.

Possible violations of the EPD consent order came up after Wilbros’ owner Joe Wilbanks took the stand first thing Thursday morning.

Under questioning, Stack asked Wilbanks about numerous EPD findings on site visits that did not appear to be in compliance with the consent order.

Wilbanks called some of those findings incorrect, but did seem to acknowledge some things at the facility pointed out by the EPD may have been in contradiction to the consent order.

With the terms of the order agreed to and in place, attorneys and the judge will now work on the formal written order.