Hundreds of Bryan and Liberty residents filled the Midway Civic Center on Jan. 27 for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s public meeting and hearing about a proposed wastewater treatment plant near the Laurel View River, which runs through both counties.
A large number of phone calls and 236 letters written to the EPD expressing concern about the project prompted the hearing, which started with an informational meeting.
Officials manned the tables and interacted with residents, answering questions and explaining their viewpoint.
The EPD viewpoint seemed to be the same as the Liberty County Development Authority – that the plant will not harm the ecosystem along the Bryan and Liberty coastline.
"It is environmentally sound," said Bob Scott with the EPD. "We would not have issued a draft permit if we hadn’t reviewed the design and felt confident that the plant can meet the limits that are protective of the environment."Scott said he has heard the many arguments against the creation of the facility, but he does not agree with them.
"We’ve done the evaluation of the design," Scott said. "We’ve done the modeling for the discharge, and we’re confident that it’s going to protect the water quality in the river, and we’re confident that the plant is designed so that it will meet the limits for re-use."
A public hearing followed, which seemed to invite a very different view of the project.
Nearly 30 residents took the podium and all of them vigorously opposed the project. When one speaker asked the residents to give a show of hands on who is for and against the project, merely one resident raised his in support of the project.
Richmond Hill attorney Brice Ladson, who has been trying to stall the process through communication with the EPD, said "the public has been shut out … I’m here on behalf of Bryan County, who got no notice of this project."
Ladson said the EPD should force the LCDA to back up the process and allow the public to give input on the potential environmental impact this plant could have.
"One of the greatest assets we have on the Georgia coast is the coast itself," Bryan County resident Jimmy Norris said. "I’m not against development; I used to serve on the development authority. I just think the authority should do some research on what would happen with all this fresh water going into the salt water – none of that’s been done."
Coastal Estuary Protection Agency (CEPA) President Allen Davis, who has led many of the efforts against this project, said this project is wrong on a financial and environmental level.
"10,000 homes is what it’s going to take to service the debt to pay the bank off," Davis said. "The plant itself will support 5,000 homes – none of which exist. It’s pretty easy to figure out that the project is not feasible and there’s no demand … this discharge into the Laurel View River is going to create an ever-expanding pool of water which is going to kill everything in that particular environment … there are all kinds of alternatives other than dumping it into the river."
Ben Brewton, former Bryan resident and Chairman of the Coastal Environmental Organization of Georgia, took issue with the environmental study that CH2MHill prepared for the LCDA and submitted to the EPD. He said he found 40 contradictions in the document. He read some of them to the crowd, and told the EPD he would be formally sending in his report on the alleged falsities.
"This whole process has been based on contradictory information," Brewton said.
Brewton also said he has yet to see a back-up plan to save the Laurel View River from disaster if there was a malfunction at the plant. He said his conversations with EPD officials at the public meeting solidified his belief.
Bryan County resident Tom Stack said the research done by CH2MHill, the company contracted to build the plant, is a conflict of interest and an environmental study should be done by an independent party.
"Why was this much money spent before we had this meeting?" asked Liberty resident Fred Newland. "I just can’t understand it. I think if you follow the money trail, it would help answer that question."
"I have seen what greed and indifference has done to our marshlands and marine life, and there’s no going back," said CEPA member Peach Hubbard. "We need to protect Georgia’s marshlands, starting here and starting now."
Chris Morse, who lives on the Bryan coast and enjoys fishing, said the creation of the plant jeopardizes the natural habitat of fish, shrimp, oysters and clams – "not in the next three to five years, but over a span of 15 to 20 years. I just talked to the people from the EPD and it’s clear to me that they’ve already made up their mind."
Environmental attorney Don Stack said many are of the opinion that the outcome is predetermined because he has "seen the EPD make mistakes like this over and over." He said a more apt name for the EPD should be "the environmental permitting division. We are permitting a science project here. There’s not a permit like this anywhere in Georgia right now. Do you feel comfortable being a guinea pig for the state and the LCDA?"
CEPA member Roy Hubbard said the area is one of the most vital and sensitive marine ecosystems in the world and a birthing place for marine life for the entire North Atlantic. He said the antibodies released from this plant will drastically alter the reproductive capability of marine life.
"It is the duty of our state government and it is the moral and ethical obligation of every resident in the state of Georgia to protect that marsh," Hubbard said.
Richmond Hill resident Dick Kent said he is concerned about a precedent being set "that could lead to unpredictable consequences along the entire coastline that nobody has fully considered."
State Representative Al Williams, on the other hand, had a different opinion
"I think it’s a good project," Williams said. "I think its state of the art. More pollutants are poured into the Laurel River from a hard rain than would ever be sent from this plant. If I thought there would be a negative impact on the environment, I would be screaming to the high heavens, but I just don’t see it. I do know this – we need to increase our tax basin in Liberty County. We need some high dollar housing projects like the ones in Richmond Hill. Until we can increase the value of our land and do things that bring quality jobs here, we’re not going to grow."
The EPD will continue to accept and consider written comments about this project, with a deadline of Feb. 3, before a permit is either issued or denied. Address comments to: Director, Environmental Protection Division, Department of Natural Resources, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Suite 1152 S.E., Floyd Towers East, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.