County addresses chemical plant

Published 7:44 am Wednesday, August 15, 2007

By By Lisa Tindell
Atmore residents opposed to a chemical plant in the Freemanville area voiced their concerns to Escambia County commissioners Monday.
"The people in the community stand to lose a valuable way of life if the construction of C&S Chemical Plant goes through," Mack Salter, a resident in the area told the commission. "We appreciate the support of the commission in this situation, but we are requesting the commission submit a letter showing your support in this situation to C&S officials. The site proposed for the construction is in extremely close proximity to my home and other homes in a one-mile radius of the site. There are several residences, schools and four churches in the same area and a new subdivision has been proposed in the area. This facility will have an effect on many people."
Salter also asked the commission to consider assisting a group of concerned citizens in reaching local, state and national representatives about the situation if it should become necessary.
Alan Baker, state representative for District 66, has submitted a letter of concern to Rob Chandler, president of C&S Chemicals. In the letter, Baker expressed concerns about the project.
"Although C&S Chemicals has not violated any local, state or federal laws or zoning restrictions and with expected compliance with all ADEM and EPA permit requirements, I still am deeply disturbed and troubled that the site selected is in such close proximity to a thriving residential area," Baker wrote. "Although I am in support of attracting more jobs and economic development to Escambia County, I am emphatically opposed to the C&S Chemical plant at the current location planned on Woods Road due to its extremely close proximity to the residences of my constituents."
Alfonzo Williams, a pastor of a church in the area, also voiced his concerns about the location of the plant.
"Freemanville has no zoning regulations and no legal weapon to fight this," Williams said. "We do have the power of the people. We are certainly not against progress, be we don't need this in the middle of our residential neighborhood."
A portion of the chemicals that will be used at the facility won't cause problems but other chemicals that will be shipped into the plant could be dangerous to the community according to the Rev. Harold Askew, who spoke to commissioners Monday.
"The company will be bringing in bauxite by rail which won't be a problem," Askew said. "It is the trucking in of sulfuric acid that is the problem. The sulfuric acid is very toxic and will be brought in by trucks that will travel the roads through community and by the middle school."
Askew said company officials have said they do not expect to have any spills of the chemicals used at the facility, however they were not able to guarantee accidents would not occur.
"Officials have told us that any clean up of spills would not be their responsibility," Askew said. "Any spills during transport would be the responsibility of the company hauling the material. Atmore officials have also told us they are not equipped to clean up a spill. We could have to wait for clean-up crews to come from other parts of the state or from across the country. Accidents could have serious effects on our children, our groundwater and the community. If the plant were built further out, further away from our schools and residents, there would be no problem. I'm not against progress and business, but if it's going to effect our children and our well-being, that's something else."
Commission Chairman David Stokes explained the limitations currently being faced by the county.
"We don't have zoning authority over that area, but we are addressing the issues," Stokes said. "We understand the concern of residents in the area over this issue."
In a previous interview, C&S' Chandler defended his company, stating that in its 27 years of operation only two chemical spills have occurred, both of which were contained inside the facility. He also stated the company has never had a lawsuit brought against them.
"We have a safety plan, which is required by the state's EPA," 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 location for the facility is in an area on Woods Road near Atmore and is situated on a site that allows access to the Alabama/Gulf Railroad.

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