Citizens bring Syrah concerns to Vidalia board meeting

Published 11:19 pm Tuesday, May 8, 2018


VIDALIA — Moments before Tuesday night’s Vidalia board of aldermen meeting drew to a close citizens submitted more than a dozen concerns about the environmental impact of a new industrial project coming to Vidalia.

Syrah Resources on April 30 announced that it had selected Vidalia for its $25 million facility. The company’s factory would create spherical graphite for electric car batteries.

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The company selected Vidalia out of several other Louisiana locations, and local officials endorsed the company coming. Tuesday, however, a group of concerned citizens raised several questions about the environmental impact of the facility.

After a brief, 15-minute meeting of the Vidalia Board of Aldermen, Mayor Buz Craft called for a motion to adjourn.

“No,” Alderman Triand McCoy said, before anyone could offer the motion. “I need to speak before we close the meeting about some concerns I’ve been getting.”

Craft asked if McCoy had an agenda item for his concern and McCoy said no, and that he was not “interested” in an agenda item for the issue.

“When Heather brings us something it’s normally good information,” McCoy said of Heather Malone, economic development agent for Concordia Parish and Natchez Inc.

“She would never do anything to harm, against the good of Vidalia … I’ve had massive calls about Project Pencil.”

Project Pencil is another name for the endeavor of Syrah Resources to set up their business in Vidalia.

“I did some research on it myself,” McCoy said.  “In the research, I found that they were lucky to find a place that might even accept the project. It’s been … because of conditions and because of what may happen to the water.”

At this assertion, Craft interrupted McCoy, saying the matter did not need to be discussed in a public forum. Craft said he would answer any and all questions members of the public or aldermen may have about the project — but not in the meeting.

A group of approximately 10 people in the back of the room protested Craft’s closing of the meeting, saying the issue should be raised in public.

The group of people, who initially declined to be interviewed or identified, said they wanted to talk about the project with the aldermen.

“I just want to have it brought to the forefront,” one woman said. “We are not against it as much as we are concerned about it.”

Craft again said he would not talk about the issue in a public meeting, after which Alderwoman Sabrina Dore attempted to add an item to the agenda by means of a vote.

The vote failed, with aldermen Tommy Probst, Robert Gardner and John Betts voting against and Dore and McCoy voted in favor.

“Mayor, when can we set a meeting date to address the concerns of the townspeople?” Dore said.

Craft said after the meeting, when he and Malone had heard the concerns of the public and answered any questions they may have, he would consider setting up a meeting.

“If you don’t get your answer we’ll have a specially called meeting,” Craft said. “… You don’t have the research that we’ve had, the state research. I live here. My mom and dad live here. I don’t want to do anything to hurt Vidalia.”

The group of men and women then retreated to a conference room near Craft’s office to speak behind closed doors with the mayor.

Malone, who was in attendance in the board of aldermen’s meeting and answered questions in the conference room, said she believed the accusations to be unfounded.

Malone said it was true that Syrah Technologies had been “run out” by a local environmental group in Louisiana, Port Manchac, but she said those concerns were unfounded.

“It’s following them here,” Malone said.

All environmental impact studies by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency have indicated that Syrah Resources will meet all air and water quality requirements, Craft said.

Approximately six people met with Craft, Malone and McCoy in a conference room for more than an hour after the meeting.

After the meeting, Pam Clayton, one of the women who submitted questions, said she had obtained permission from the mayor to hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. May 15 in the council room.

Craft said he thought the meeting went well, and that he would do his best to answer the group’s questions.

Some of the concerns the group submitted to Craft were:

  • What heavy metals and what impurities are washing as specified in your original DEQ permit?
  • Do you test fish in Mississippi River for heavy metals?
  • What permits will Syrah obtain? Natural mineral processing or electronic components?

Craft said he could not immediately answer all of the group’s questions, but that he hoped the EPA and LDEQ studies would provide that information.

“We work within the guidelines of the state agencies, and at the end of the day we are going to work within their regulations,” Craft said. “I intend to answer all of their questions, but if (Syrah Resources) is within the industrial guidelines, I think it will be very good for our community.”