Tuesday, 13 April 2021 15:41

State agency grants air quality permit to International Tie Disposal for proposed Richmond County biochar plant

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State agency grants air quality permit to International Tie Disposal for proposed Richmond County biochar plant Richmond County Government

HAMLET — The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Division of Air Quality has granted a synthetic minor air quality permit to a company that plans to create biochar from discarded railroad ties.

In a letter to Basil Polivka II of International Tie Disposal dated April 13, Regional DAQ Supervisor Heather Carter forwarded the permit “for the construction and operation of air emissions sources or air cleaning devices and appurtenances.”

ITD is in the planning stages of building a railroad tie disposal facility in Richmond County near the municipalities of Dobbins Heights and Hamlet.

The company has plans to dispose of the old railroad ties using a process dubbed pyrolysis. 

Pyrolysis is a technique that essentially cooks the ties, thereby driving out many chemicals from the wood including creosote, a preservative added during railroad tie production.

The permit — valid until March 31, 2029 — authorizes ITD to construct and operate 426 biochar kilns with natural gas-fired burners

According to the letter, initial source testing is required to be conducted no later than 90 days after startup of the biochar kiln operations and no more than 13 months after the previous performance test. A notification of biochar kiln operation startup is required.

Records show the application was sent Sept. 15, 2020 by Texas-based Trinity Consultants Charlotte Office and received at the DEQ’s Fayetteville office the following day.

The permit, which is attached to this story, has several specific conditions and limitations.

One of those is that the facility is limited to no more than 62 kiln operations per hour. 

Other operational limitations include:

  • No more than 58,400 kiln operations conducted per 12-consecutive-month period.
  • No more than 58,400 tons of raw material will be processed in the kilns per 12-consecutive-month period.

The permit also requires ITD keep detailed records of its operations and submit all records, reports and other documentation in duplicate to the DAQ regional supervisor.

“It is not surprising to learn ITD has received their Air Quality Permit. ITD is a recycling company — taking negative products out of our waste stream, rail ties which litter our railroads and turning it into something positive, biochar,” Richmond County Economic Developer Martie Butler said. “ITD commissioned an air modeling study based upon the request of concerned citizens and City of Hamlet.”

Citing a DAQ press release, Butler said the study determined “the facility could operate in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.”

“DEQ employs professional scientist(s) whose sole responsibility is monitoring our state's air quality,” Butler added. “Air quality falls under the jurisdiction of North Carolina, not the county and we have full confidence in their findings. We in Richmond County look forward to working with DEQ and all regulatory agencies to ensure the safety and welfare of our citizens.”

The plans for the plant have been a topic of discussion since the Richmond County Board of Commissioners approved a rezoning request from CSX late last year.

The state held a virtual public hearing in early March to get feedback from residents, municipal leaders and other stakeholders.

“Several items of concern including air quality modeling, operational limitations, and reporting requirements were incorporated into the final permit,” said Hamlet City Manager Matthew Christian, who has been vocal during the permitting process. “The conclusion of the Air Quality permitting process was positively influenced by the meaningful public engagement facilitated by NCDEQ.”

Christian added that, in addition to state-level permitting, the commissioners are “responsible for determining what types of land uses are appropriate in our community.”

"We remain concerned about the impact this industry will have on the City of Hamlet, our water customers, and our neighbors nearby,” Christian continued. “We remain committed to working with the entire community. We hope that Richmond County will facilitate more meaningful public engagement on these critical issues moving forward.”