Residents fill board room to ask questions, voice opinions on Tessenderlo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 26, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Adams County residents filled the Board of Supervisors meeting room Tuesday to express their opinions about Tessenderlo Davison Chemicals’ proposed facility.

Although a final agreement to buy Ethyl Petroleum’s old plant has not yet been signed, Tessenderlo has started the due diligence process, reviewing the plant to see whether it meets the company’s needs.

Company officials have said they will store sodium hydrosulfide, sodium hydroxide and sulfidic sodium hydroxide &045; and may also mix the chemicals &045; at the Adams County facility.

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Citizens concerned about the possibility of pollution or odor from the proposed storage and mixing facility asked supervisors to pass a policy against recruiting chemical industries. Supervisors took no action on the request.

&uot;There is so much potential here to market clean activities centered on leisure time, tourism, the arts, entertainment and the retirement industry&uot; without chemical industries, said Jane Gardner. &uot;Are these few jobs worth an offensive odor? Are they worth health risk and damage to the environment?&uot;

Other cited the need for jobs in a community that will soon lose an International Paper mill. They said that no industry is without its risks and that the state Department of Environmental Quality will permit and monitor the facility.

&uot;We need to keep black and white, males and females in this area&uot; instead of having children leave the area to find jobs, said Barney Schoby Jr. &uot;You’ve got sons and fathers, whole families fighting for the same job. The only odor here is the odor of dispair and of unemployment.&uot;

Citizens’ concerns included:

4What type of work will be done at the plant. The facility will be used to store the chemicals and mix them. Michael Ferdinand, executive director of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, said that does not mean chemicals will be produced at the plant. But he later said that that distinction is &uot;just semantics.&uot; But others referred to a Chemical Online article in which a Tessenderlo official referred to the Adams County location as a production facility.

Ferdinand also noted that chemicals have already been stored at another facility in Adams County for several years, although he did not have statistics on any possible ill effects from the storage facility.

4What types of environmental safeguards will be in place at the plant. Liquids will be stored in above-ground tanks surrounded by earthen berms.

The types of chemicals stored and mixed at the facility would be different from those of Ethyl Petroleum. Therefore, it is likely that Tessenderlo will have to apply for all-new permits from the MDEQ, the agency that will then monitor the facility, Ferdinand said.

4What dangers the facility might present to human health and safety.

Caroline Herrington, another concerned citizen, referred to accounts of two deaths at a Georgia facility and one death at a Michigan facility and other injuries due to the chemicals the facility would store and mix.

&uot;This is a hazardous chemical,&uot; Gardner said.

4The rotten egg odor one of the chemicals in question, sodium hydrosulfide, would have, according to company officials. Environmental safeguards would be in place to guard against the escape of chemicals, Ferdinand said. Such a smell would hurt the city’s tourism promotion efforts, said bed and breakfast owner Neil Varnell. &uot;We’re looking for more clean industry,&uot; he said.

Others, however, said the need for jobs outweighs such concerns, especially when the MDEQ will already be permitting and monitoring the site.

Tourism is on the decline nationwide and locally, creating the need for even more jobs, said resident Robert McGee.

&uot;Pilgrimage is on the decline,&uot; Sanders said, adding that many tourism jobs are minimum-wage jobs. &uot;People, don’t fool yourselves Š it’s time to make a change.&uot;

Adams County has an anti-business climate, said George Matthews, president of Mississippi River Corp. &uot;No one wants to suffer illness from pollution, but the DEQ is responsible (for monitoring),&uot; he said.

On the heels of losing hundreds of indirect and direct jobs from IP’s closing, &uot;we need jobs here,&uot; he said. &uot;If we don’t encourage businesses to come here, Š we’re kidding ourselves.

&uot;My concern is for the people who are losing these jobs Š and don’t have the ability to keep their children here. &uot;Tourism will never take the place of a strong manufacturing base.&uot;

Gardner, who acted as a spokesperson for concerned citizens at the meeting, said she is not sure what that group’s next move will be &045; except to wait for a response from supervisors.

If supervisors do not adopt a &uot;clean industry&uot; policy, resident James Gavette said after the meeting, &uot;we have elected officials going their own course without regard to doing things a new way.&uot;