Rational discussion would help

Published 10:51 am Friday, May 11, 2018

If you knew chemical pathogens were being dispersed into your town on a daily basis, what would you do to stop it and at what cost?

When the town of Vidalia announced it had been selected for the site of new graphite processing plant, several residents raised concerns about the Australian company planning the facility.
After the company had been run out of town by another Louisiana community, residents have a right to be concerned.

They also have a right to be skeptical when local officials try to squelch their efforts to get their questions answered in a public meeting.

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Syrah Resources plans to build a new facility in the former rubber recycling plant near the future Vidalia Port. The product Syrah intends to produce in Vidalia will be used for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

Syrah will ship raw graphite from its mine in Mozambique to the Port of New Orleans and then truck it to Vidalia for processing.

The company initially planned to build a facility in Port Manchac, Louisiana, before a group of environmentalists, fishermen and residents persuaded officials to back away from leasing a facility to Syrah. Port Manchac residents were mainly concerned about the effect of air emissions and wastewater discharge on the local fishing industry.

Several months later, Vidalia residents are raising similar concerns about Syrah’s proposed plant for Vidalia, despite assurances from Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft and Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ that the new plant will not adversely affect the surrounding area.

Local officials say the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality previously reported that Syrah meets all of the state’s environmental standards.

As much as everyone involved agrees they only want what is best for the community, neither side is being open-minded.

For example, as much as environmentalists express concerns about the chemical compounds Syrah officials say will be emitted into the air, many of the same pathogens are emitted on a daily basis by the thousands of cars and trucks that drive up and down Carter Street.

Nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, small particulates, carbon monoxide and, even, formaldehyde — albeit in tiny quantities — are pumped into the atmosphere each day by gasoline and diesel engines, the Environmental Protection Agency reports.

And yet, no one in Vidalia is considering shutting down the highways due to truck and car air emissions.

On the other side, local economic development officials appear focused on choking off any questions by residents, for fear that the environmental firestorm of Port Manchac will spread to Vidalia.
Many issues ranging from air emissions and wastewater to the raw materials that will be trucked into town need to be examined.

The question is whether members of either side are willing to consider anything the opposition has to say. It appears not.

What the community needs most is an open discussion about the Syrah Resources that is more focused on providing the community with accurate and trustworthy information than it is about feeding egos — more about hard facts than vague assurances.

Without such a discussion, the community will suffer well before the environment ever does.

Ben Hillyer is the news editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3549 and by email at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.