BY LISA WARREN
MOSHEIM -- US Nitrogen has submitted a permit modification request to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) asking that the company be allowed to discharge nearly 90 percent of the plant's wastewater directly into Lick Creek, bypassing the Town of Mosheim's wastewater treatment facility.
The US Nitrogen plant, which will manufacture liquid ammonium nitrate, is currently under construction off Pottertown Road in Midway. The plant is scheduled to begin operations in 2014.
Company officials maintain that the water discharge, consisting of water which will be used in its manufacturing process, would pose no greater environmental risk than water which is now being discharged into Lick Creek after being treated by Mosheim's wastewater treatment facility.
However, some concerned citizens are not fully convinced that discharging the water from the manufacturing process directly into Lick Creek is environmentally safe.
Actress and environmental activist Park Overall, who lives in Greene County,was among those present at a called meeting of the Mosheim Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Wednesday evening where the water permit issue was discussed.
Overall was accompanied by Greeneville resident DeeDee Johnson and Midway resident Junior Belcher. Overall and Belcher have been critical of the plant from an environmental standpoint.
Overall voiced strong opposition Wednesday night to the proposed permit change and also raised concerns over possible air quality compromises that, she said, could potentially result from the plant's manufacturing processes.
"There is nothing good that ever comes out of a nitrogen plant," Overall said during the meeting.
The called meeting was held Wednesday evening to provide US Nitrogen officials an opportunity to discuss with the Mosheim officials options for connecting to the town's wastewater treatment line.
Tom Green, senior project manager with EnSafe, Inc., a consulting firm hired by US Nitrogen, said that the plant has submitted a request for a permit modification to TDEC.
If approved by the state, this permit would allow the overwhelming majority of the plant's wastewater to bypass the regular wastewater treatment processes at the Town of Mosheim's wastewater treatment facility.
Concerns have previously been raised by Mosheim officials about a possible overload of wastewater at the treatment facility once US Nitrogen goes online next year.
For that reason, plans were made by the town for possible upgrades at the facility to handle the extra flow, based upon original projections provided to the town by US Nitrogen.
Earlier this summer, Mosheim also hired a consulting firm to aid in the contract negiotation process with US Nitrogen concerning its wastewater treatment needs.
Now, US Nitrogen officials are proposing bypassing the wastewater treatment facility with at least 90 percent of its process wastewater because, they say, the wastewater would not pose additional hazards to Lick Creek.
When plant officials began initial talks with the town about two years ago, they said that they would be putting about 295,000 gallons a day of treatable sewage through the wastewater treatment facility, said Mosheim Mayor Tommy Gregg.
The facility currently has a capacity to handle about 975,000 gallons a day, and this extra load would have put a major burden on the facility.
To accommodate the plant's requirements, however, the town began seeking state and federal loans and grants to upgrade the treatment facility. Those upgrades are now on hold after this latest word from US Nitrogen, Gregg said.
Plant officials now say that only their sanitary wastewater from restrooms and showers would be put into the town's sewer facility, if the permit change is approved. This would amount to about 35,000 to 50,000 gallons per day.
The plant officials have cited "long-term, cost-effective reasons" for asking for the change, Gregg said.
Hollie Binkley, US Nitrogen's environmental manager, told the board that Cathy Walden, of W&W Engineering, submitted the application to the state that would allow for the direct discharge.
Walden said that state officials have not yet said what testing or sampling would be required, if the permit modification is approved.
"We have not received any details back on that yet," Walden said.
Overall said that the creek where the discharge would occur is "one of the most damaged creeks in Tennessee" because of already-existing excess nitrogen levels.
However, the plant officials said at the meeting that there would be no increase of nitrogen levels into the creek from US Nitrogen's wastewater discharge if the permit application is approved.
Overall said she felt that the plant would discharge excess nitrogen, through the air.
"What goes up must come down," Overall said. "I think you are looking only at the water and you are not looking at the air. Pardon me, while I look at both."
Overall said she would like to see paperwork regarding the proposed discharge levels from the plant.
Green, of EnSafe, said that the reason that Lick Creek is classified as "impaired" by the State of Tennessee is not due to the "point source load from Mosheim."
"Mosheim is considered to be a tiny contributor to that. It is primarily due to agriculture and other run-off from properties upstream," Green said.
"That's just not true, sir," Overall said. "I'm sorry, but if you look at the state data, it's coming from industry."
"That's not what TDEC people are telling us," Green countered.
"Well, I have their paperwork," Overall said. "I can show it to you now. I'm happy to."
This conversation was interrupted when Mosheim Town Attorney Ed Kershaw spoke up to ask a question about another matter.
Kershaw explained that Mosheim has a wastewater treatment contract with the Town of Bulls Gap that guarantees Bulls Gap a certain amount of usage.
"What you're doing is not, in any way, going to interfere with [Bulls Gap's] guaranteed usage of that wastewater treatment plant?" Kershaw asked.
"We don't believe it would," Green answered.
"The flow volume that would be introduced to the head works, where it would be competing with Bulls Gap and other customers, would be quite small.
"Your available capacity right now is around 350,000 to 375,000 gallons per day," he said.
"It would be a different story if our entire flow goes to the [treatment facility]," Green said.
Overall, who was on the meeting's agenda to make a presentation, said that she only had questions for the US Nitrogen and town officials.
However, her questioning was abruptly cut off by Mosheim Alderman Harold Smith when he made a motion to conclude the meeting.
The motion was seconded by Alerman Dave Long, and approved by the board.
Upon the meeting's end, Overall declared, "Boys, we will see you in court!"