Tuesday, 02 March 2021 17:04

Opposition dominates permit public hearing for proposed ITD Hamlet plant

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International Tie Disposal has plans to build a biochar facility in the Marks Creek area north of Hamlet. International Tie Disposal has plans to build a biochar facility in the Marks Creek area north of Hamlet. Richmond County Government

HAMLET — Several Richmond County residents and environmental groups oppose an air quality permit for a proposed biochar plant, and say a state agency should do more modeling to protect public health.


The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Division of Air Quality held a virtual public hearing Monday evening to solicit comments regarding a synthetic minor air quality permit submitted by International Tie Disposal, LLC.

ITD plans to build a biochar plant on property in the Marks Creek community north of Hamlet which was rezoned late last year by the Richmond County Board of Commissioners.

Brad Newland, regional supervisor of DAQ’s Wilmington Office, said a public hearing was not required for the permit, but the agency decided to have one because of the amount of interest surrounding the plant.

Most of those commenting during Monday’s meeting opposed the permit.

Hamlet City Manager Matthew Christian expressed concerns regarding the city’s nearby water supply, which services around 10,000 residents.

“The City of Hamlet’s mission is to provide safe, efficient and effective services to our residents and customers, which include Dobbins Heights and others in the area, and the proposed development presents a significant threat to our community’s ability to achieve our mission,” Christian said.

In late December, Hamlet and Dobbins Heights — along with a few residents — filed a legal complaint against the county regarding ITD.

Christian said “it remains unclear” why the city, being a “key stakeholder,” was “explicitly excluded” from the corporate outreach process.

“To be clear, the city of Hamlet has never received any outreach from ITD regarding their development,” Christian said. “Any claim from Mr. (Basil) Polivka or others to the contrary is patently false.”

The city manager added that he reached out to Polivka, CEO of ITD’s parent company, following last week’s virtual meeting “to take him up on his apparent outreach efforts.”

“He declined,” Christian said. “While this may be dismissed as a minor issue to some, it speaks volumes about the credibility of ITD and their willingness to be transparent in the permitting process.”

Christian also requested several considerations “prior to permit approval,” including more extensive air quality modeling, a fugitive dust plan and to consider cumulative impacts of industrial polluters in the area.

Those sentiments were shared by several others, including representatives of environmental groups.

“Within a three-mile radius of the proposed ITD facility, sits Envia-Hamlet, three inactive hazardous waste sites, a solid waste landfill and several other potential contamination sources,” said Christine Diaz, environmental justice organizer and researcher for Clean Water for N.C. “DAQ must assess the cumulative impacts to air pollution that this facility would pose.”

Emily Zuccino, of the Dogwood Alliance — which helped Concerned Citzens of Richmond County fight against the Envia wood pellet plant several years back — said she was “disappointed another polluting industry wants to set up shop” in the same area.

“Residents are already exposed to multiple polluting industries,” Zuccino said, adding, citing a recent report, that the county ranks higher than 80% of other counties in proximity to facilities using extremely hazardous substances and millions are spent in medical care for asthma and other breathing problems.

“Adding another polluting industry, especially during a global pandemic, will further worsen these poor health outcomes,” Zuccino said.

Diaz also said that the company’s productions of air emissions are misleading.

Several comments were made regarding the comparison to a similar facility in Colorado, which dissenters say isn’t accurate since that plant doesn’t burn creosote-treated wood, like the proposed ITD site would.

James Gaspard, founder and CEO of Biochar Now, said technology used at his plant has been approved for use in other states, adding that DAQ personnel spent more time to understand the process than those in any other state.

“The site in Hamlet will operate the exact same conversion equipment we utilize in our other sites,” Gaspard said. “Biochar Now has every incentive to make sure this site is operated to our exacting standards to ensure the finished product quality for our customer base.”

Basil Polivka II, director of the pyrolysis program for ITD, said the company has made several changes to the permit based on resident feedback.

Two concerns addressed in the plant’s design relate to noise and dust for particulate matter emissions, Polivka said.

Instead of being open-air, Polivka said the shredder will be housed in shipping containers with conveyor belts feeding into the kiln, canceling out sound and reducing dust emissions by 90%.

Polivka added that the company could not find any evidence of odor emitted by 30-40-year-old railroad ties, adding that odors “seem to be associated with new ties.”

Addressing water-related concerns, Polivka said the company would be applying for runoff permits.

Also related to noise, Polivka said the plant would generate “substantially less” noise than the nearby CSX train yard.

Randall Blackmon, safety manager for parent company Polivka International, said company policies encourage employees “to take personal responsibility for the safety of themselves and each other, as well as our clients, the communities we operate in and the safety of the environment.”

“We understand safety and production go hand-in-hand,” Blackmon said, adding that safety manuals are updated and in compliance with state and federal regulations.

Jill Delisio, an executive with parent company Polivka International, said the plant would create 55 jobs in the area with an average starting salary of $21.50 per hour. She added that ITD is committed to working with Richmond Community College to provide training for local employees.

According to Basil Polivka Sr., the parent company has developed “environmentally friendly” solutions to reduce water run-off while cutting costs, winning the Industrial Fabrics Award “and other accolades for its proven success” in the automotive and eco-parking industries.

“We are committed to being a valuable contributing member to Richmond County that will prove high-salary positions, full benefits and will benefit from the services offered by local contractors,” he said.

Others expressing opposition included Hope and Lonnie Norton and Chad and Lisa Gardner, who are listed as plaintiffs in the aforementioned legal complaint, as well as members of Marks Creek Presbytyrian Church.

Lisa Gardner said her home is the closest to the proposed plant.

She said she’s not only concerned for her own health and that of neighbors, but that of the children in the area.

“We don’t even know what health issues that could come to them that we won’t even know about for years,” Gardner said. “I feel like we are going to be a Guinea pig or crash-test dummy location for this type of site because it hasn’t been done yet, and there’s not that much information on what’s going to happen or what could happen.

“We’re already a poor, unhealthy county and should not bear any more injustice for the promise of a few jobs that are not worth our life,” Gardner added.

Contradicting the Hamlet city manager’s earlier comments about communication, Richmond County Economic Developer Martie Butler said that throughout the process, ITD and the parent company “have been nothing but great community partners.”

“Through multiple rounds of public feedback, the company has ensured that the relative negative impact to the community would be minimum,” Butler said. “This company engaged with local neighbors and municipalities … Unlike many companies that I have worked with through the years, they did not send a director of business development or hired marketing folks, but the owners actually came down and engaged with conversations …”

Butler added that corporate heads didn’t just come once, but have engaged “multiple times” through email and telephone calls.

“As an economic developer, I can greatly appreciate a company that’s willing to put their name and face on the line with the community,” Butler continued.

She said the company has not tried to fast-track any permit, and cited the younger Polivka as saying “We’re not interested in rushing this process, we’re interested in doing the right thing.”

Echoing Polivka, Butler said ITD has made modifications to mitigate some of the concerns and be good stewards of their site.

Butler admitted that the biochar technology is relatively new, but said it is “a potential game-changing operation for the rail industry and our environment.” 

“I’m aware this process has been reviewed extensively by DEQ over the past several months and I appreciate their diligence throughout the process,” Butler said. “I have faith that DEQ, as the regulatory agency, has committed ample time and studies necessary to ensure” the safety of the citizens and environment of Richmond County.

Some said they would submit additional comments.

DAQ will continue to accept comments until 5 p.m. March 3.

To provide comments:

  • Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (mention International Tie in the subject line)
  • Call: 919-707-8714