The Liberty County Development Authority’s proposed wastewater treatment center took center stage at Thursday’s Richmond Hill Rotary Club meeting. It held it for approximately two hours.
"We know this is a subject that is near and dear to a lot of hearts – the place we live and how much we love it and want to protect it," Rotarian Jack Hyde said. "We also know we have an extraordinary desire for folks to come in for development, and we have to balance growth and protecting our environment."
Included in a panel addressing the issue were LCDA CEO Ron Tolley and project engineer Wayne Murphy from CH2MHill. On the other side of the table were Coastal Estuary Protection Association President Allen Davis and environmentalist Roy Hubbard.
Tolley and Murphy said they have done the proper research and followed every legal process required for the project, and the proposed treatment center will not have an affect on the marshlands of Liberty or Bryan County.
Hubbard said it will take more than the legal steps to protect the ecosystem along Laurel View River.
The project proposal includes the discharging of fresh water along the coast of both counties and Hubbard said that could destroy marshlands and sea life in its path.
He also said he is concerned over a precedent being set which could lead to the destruction of marshlands in other parts of the state.
"You want to kill an oyster? Put it in fresh water – the cleaner, the quicker," Hubbard said. "You got a $30 million dollar project, but you have not spent the time to go out there and find out what’s in that water and what it’s really going to affect. You know nothing about the ecology of the Laurel View River or that basin."
Murphy showed graphs saying the discharge of three million gallons per day, which is the highest possible amount of water the facility is proposing to disperse, would not affect the ecology.
He also corrected something he told the Bryan County commission earlier in the week, saying the impact would be "one part per billion, not trillion … It would account for only .0002 of the total river flow. How could that possibly have an effect?"
Murphy said the potential fresh water flow would not affect salinity, giving the example of millions of gallons of fresh rain water not changing the saltiness of the marsh waters.
Hubbard countered that the fresh water emitted from the facility would contain chemicals that rain water does not.
Davis questioned the financial feasibility for the $30 million the LCDA has proposed to spend on this project.
He said 10,000 homes would have to be developed in order to service the debt. He also noted that there are no plans on the table for residential development in the immediate area of the proposed facility.
Murphy said the LCDA is confident that "growth will come", based on numerous trends and projections.
Davis said he wants an independent party to review the ecological feasibility of this project.
He said it should not be built solely upon the scientific studies of CH2MHill because they look to gain from the creation of the facility.
The meeting got a bit heated, but when it was all said and done both sides agreed it was a productive meeting.
"We appreciated the invitation and the opportunity to come up when it became obvious that strong feelings were out there in the community about this project," Tolley said. "The reason we came was for those people that have concerns because of what they’ve heard to date but have not had presented to them what we’ve had the advantage of, which is three years worth of discussion and analysis to get down to the best environmentally possible plant and process with the least impact. Hopefully there are those that heard the presentation and appreciated the analysis."
The next step is the EPD public hearing Jan. 27 at the Midway Civic Center, where the public will have the opportunity to state their opinions on the pending permit for the facility.
All of the Rotary panel members are slated to attend.
Hubbard said it is likely that the EPD will issue the permit and "the only way to stop them from issuing this permit is for the governor to order them not to issue it. It will be a political decision, one way or the other."