C&S speaks out at meeting

Published 7:14 am Wednesday, August 8, 2007

By By Adam Prestridge
Boos from the crowd spoke volumes Monday night – C&S Chemicals is not welcomed in Escambia County.
More than 100 concerned Freemanville and Atmore residents expressed their disapproval of the Atlanta-based chemical company locating a plant on Woods Road during a public forum Monday evening at Escambia County Middle School.
"We are here tonight because we adamantly urge and request that C&S Chemicals stop their current plans for the Woods Road site and work with local officials and economic leaders to find an alternate location that would satisfactorily allow our citizens and their company to work in harmony," Mack Salter said to open the meeting.
Working with the county's economic leaders is exactly what C&S Chemicals president Rob Chandler said his company did prior to purchasing the property.
"One of the things we are hearing tonight is that we are being asked to work with elected officials to find an appropriate site," he said. "That's exactly what we did. The site was actually shown to us by the economic development people. That's how we found it. We were looking for five acres of land with a railroad siding and they showed us the property. We tried to meet with some of the people from the City of Atmore and got no response. We're down the path of developing the property and getting the necessary permits and we feel like we did what we were supposed to do up front."
Escambia County Industrial Development Authority executive director Marshall Rogers and Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority director Wiley Blankenship both stated via telephone Tuesday morning that they did show Mike Chandler, Rob Chandler's brother and business partner, several pieces of 'industrial zoned' land in Escambia, Monroe and Conecuh counties. Also, they both added that they did not show the land purchased on Woods Road.
One of the pieces of property the Chandlers passed up was in Atmore Industrial Park. A panel of concerned citizens armed with questions for the business owners asked why they passed up the industrial property along with numerous other questions of concern.
"The reason we picked this area is because we have customers in both Mobile and Montgomery, so it's centrally located to our customers," Rob Chandler said. "Another reason we picked this site was primarily due to the railroad access. It's on the Alabama/Gulf Railroad, which is key for us for transportation issues."
Answering another concern of the residents, the business owners said that there would be three large deliveries each day, five days a week.
"The operation is not loud, it does not run 24 hours," Rob Chandler said. "It's a single shift operation, five days a week."
Francis Dunn, who sat on the questioning panel, asked what the company's procedures for chemical spills and the possible dangers one may pose on nearby residents if a spill were to occur.
"The chemicals that we will have at the facility are all liquid chemicals," Rob Chandler explained. "We do not have any compressed gases, nothing that is flammable, explosive, or poisonous. All of our chemicals are stable and will be housed in tanks of appropriate construction whether it is steel, fiberglass or polyethylene. The chemical that we house that has the biggest health or safety risk is sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid, if you do get it on your skin, you will get a burn. Due to the nature of that chemical, it is kept in a tank in secondary containment, which consists of a 4-foot concrete wall all the way around the tank with a polyethylene liner. The secondary containment holds 110 percent of the volume of the tank, so should the tank have a problem, the secondary containment will house all of the contents of the tank. Short of coming in contact with this material there is no vapor or anything that can leave the site. The site will also be secure with fences."
Rob Chandler also explained the process of producing aluminum sulfate, which C&S Chemicals sells to Mobile and Montgomery for water purification. He said employees take an aluminum ore called bauxite, which is mined in Eufaula, and mix it with sulfuric acid and water. The aluminum in the bauxite ore naturalizes the acid to aluminum sulfate, which not only is used to take dirt out of drinking water, but for lake restoration projects to remove algae.
"I know when people hear the word 'chemicals,' they get very nervous and very upset, and I can't say that I blame them," Rob Chandler said. "When I hear the word 'snake,' I feel the same way. I don't care if it's a good snake or a bad snake, I don't like snakes. What we are here to tell you, is that the plant that we have proposed for Atmore will cause no environmental concerns and no health concerns. You'll be perfectly safe."
Concerns about the environmental and health risks C&S Chemicals may have on its nearby residential neighbors continued to be brought up by residents on the panel.
"I am personally, adamantly against a facility of this caliber coming into this area because of the proximity it is to our school and all of these people," Escambia County school board member W.J. Grissett said. "I also heard you say that you service Mobile and Montgomery and your aim was to try to locate significantly midway, you did not do that. We are about 50 miles from Mobile and 130 from Montgomery, so you need to move on up the road."
Again, Rob Chandler defended his company stating that in its 27 years in operation only two chemical spills have occurred, both of which were contained to the 7,000-square foot facility. He also stated that the company has never had a lawsuit or has been forced to sue anybody or any other business.
"There's no large obstructions, it's a very neat facility," Rob Chandler said. "It should blend well with the community and it should raise property values."
The business owners added that the company has $5 million in liability insurance. As for regulating the chemical facility, Rob Chandler said the Alabama Environmental Protection Agency issues the plant's permits.
"We have a safety plan, which is required by the state's EPA," Rob Chandler said. "There is no necessity for evacuation should there be a spill at this facility. If this tank of sulfuric acid were to rupture it would leak out into the secondary containment, a tanker truck would be brought in and it would be pumped into the truck. There is no plume of smoke, no vapors and there is no need of evacuations."
The only waste material Rob Chandler says will be produced at the chemical plant will be silica, which is a by-product of bauxite ore.
"It can be used as road base, it's not a chemical, it's silica sand," he said. "It can be sold or transported to a landfill."
The lack of zoning ordinances in Escambia County has allowed for a business such as C&S Chemicals to begin construction on Woods Road where the majority of the area is residential.
"It sure would have made our lives easier if you had zoning in place and you could say this is where we want business and this is where we want residential," Rob Chandler said.
Several elected officials voiced their disapproval of the chemical plant including Buford Rolin, chairman for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
"You've heard what they are telling us about how much money they are going to invest in this company and the amount of jobs, but you know, we're investing money into this community too, about $250 million and about 2,000 jobs," Rolin said. "What am I going to tell my gaming folks that come in here, 'I'm fixing to build a 16-story hotel and resort, but less than two miles from you, there's a chemical plant.' That's not going to help this community. I understand these men and their business endeavors and I admire them, but on the same token, we don't want that facility here in our backyards."
As for if the three-brother chemical company will still open the plant in Atmore, they did not have an answer.
"I don't know the answer to that," Rob Chandler said via phone Tuesday afternoon. "Nothing is on hold, but we are definitely digesting what we learned last night."

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox