The majority of people who spoke at a 45-minute hearing Thursday were opposed to DRT America’s wastewater going into Ebenezer Creek in Effingham County, as were all 13 people who submitted written comments.
The only people who clearly were in favor of the move worked for DRT America.
“I’m afraid that you guys are being asked to bear a cost and a liability that is really not worth the risk,” Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper, told Springfield City Council members.
DRT America has built a $43 million plant that sits idle in an industrial park on Ebenezer Road, awaiting a decision about where it can send its wastewater. The company plans to take crude sulfate turpentine, a pulp mill byproduct, and process it to make rosin and turpentine oil used in products such as perfumes, adhesives and chewing gum.
Springfield’s city council members are scheduled to vote on DRT’s request for the city to treat its wastewater at its Harris Hinely Wastewater Treatment Plant at a specially called meeting Nov. 16.
Test runs of the facility over the last few months have resulted in complaints about odors.
“I’m getting phone calls from parents who have kids at a school less than a mile away from this facility that are gagging on their way to school and the facility is not turned on,” Bonitatibus said. “I think that is cause for concern for everybody.”
Tom Bridges of Springfield told the council, “DRT was allowed to build without securing all the proper permits ahead of time, just another boondoogle from our Industrial Development Authority and state EPD all in the name of good jobs.”
The plant employs 27 now but could ramp up to as many as 40, paying $37,000 a year.
John Henry, CEO of the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority, said the IDA has been assured the plant will not emit any odors and that wastewater would be treated onsite to acceptable levels.
“The IDA’s support for this project has always been contingent upon the company fulfilling its representations,” he said. “If the company does not operate accordingly, the IDA may take any and all measures available to force compliance or stop production until compliance is achieved.”
DRT America President Corey Schneider said the EPD has a list of 129 priority pollutants, none of which are used at the plant.
He noted that after the wastewater is treated at the plant, it will be held in a tank and tested before it is discharged to the city’s treatment plant.
“We are committed to protecting the environment and operating safely,” he said, inviting Springfield’s council members to visit the plant.
Paulita Bennett-Martin of One Hundred Miles, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting Georgia’s coast, said she’s been getting calls from people seeking help on the issue for six months.
“Everyone’s cautious and everyone’s worried and everyone’s wondering what will happen to their favorite blackwater creek. … It’s a decision that sets a bar for the future on how development continues to occur here.”
Lonnie Pate, chairman of Springfield’s Downtown Development Authority, said the health of Ebenezer Creek will impact the city’s economy.
“It’s crucial to the tourism that’s coming up this way we hope in the future,” he said.
Rincon resident Jimmy Helmly said the council has spoken previously about beautifying Ebenezer Creek: “If you vote for this y’all are just a bunch of hypocrites.”
He also noted that the city could have stopped the plant by refusing to sign a change in the industrial park covenants that was necessary for it to be built.
Louis Taylor, who said he’s associated with Friends of Ebenezer Creek, said the plant shouldn’t have been built near the creek and the process needs to be fixed so that nothing similar occurs in the future.
Mike Neal of Savannah noted that there are 1,000-year-old trees on the creek. He said if the city does decide to accept the wastewater, he hopes there would be stipulations to safeguard the creek as much as possible.
Council members did not respond to the remarks made at the hearing. Mayor Barty Alderman reminded the audience that the plant is in unincorporated Effingham County and the city had no control over its zoning or permitting.
The public will not be allowed to comment at the meeting when the council makes its decision, at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Effingham County Administrative Complex, Commissioner’s Meeting Room, 601 North Laurel St., Springfield.