An Environmental Protection Agency determination this week directly contradicts a plan for the closure of an unlined ash pond at the defunct Plant Hammond in Coosa.
The federal agency stated that it intends to enforce a 2015 rule prohibiting utilities from dumping coal ash into unlined ponds.
The announcement could be a game changer after Georgia Power sought a cap-in-place permit for Ash Pond 3 at the site. While the permit had not yet been awarded by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, it appeared the plan for the 25-acre ash pond was all but accepted.
“This is great news. I am legitimately excited to see what comes next,” said Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative.
In the case of Plant Hammond, even with other measures, leaving the ash in an unlined pit will cause it to come into contact with groundwater, Demonbreun-Chapman said.
During an earlier public comment session, an EPD representative said the agency had found groundwater in Ash Pond 3.
That means those chemicals — arsenic, boron and strontium to cobalt, arsenic and hexavalent chromium — would then enter the groundwater and pollute waterways, like the Coosa River.
Georgia Power is in the process of closing all 29 of its ash ponds at 11 plants across the state, a $9 billion investment. While the Atlanta-based utility’s plan calls for excavating and removing the ash from 19 of those ponds, the other 10 are to be closed in place.
The determination specifically re-states the EPA’s position that surface impoundments or landfills cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater. Closure with coal ash in contact with groundwater puts the health and safety of nearby communities at risk, an EPA press release stated.
The consequences of groundwater entering an unlined ash pond have been seen in Bartow County.
In 2002, a four-acre-wide sinkhole opened up underneath Plant Bowen that released 2.25 million gallons of coal ash into Euharlee Creek. That spill caused arsenic levels in the creek to spike to levels 120 times higher than federal drinking water standards allow. More sinkholes developed in December 2008.
The Southern Environmental Law Center welcomed the EPA’s announcement.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stepped up to offer communities hope and to protect clean water, rivers and drinking water supplies from the threats posed by coal ash,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the SELC.
“With EPA’s leadership, we now have the opportunity to put coal ash pollution and catastrophes behind us and to restore common-sense protections for communities across the South that have lived with coal ash contamination for far too long.”
The EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery sent a letter Tuesday asking Georgia EPD Director Rick Dunn to review pending coal ash pond closure permits to determine whether they need to be modified or reissued in light of the EPA’s announcement.
The federal agency suggested a meeting with EPD later this month to discuss the results of the review.
Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the utility is committed to safely closing all of its coal ash ponds.
“We are evaluating EPA’s position as announced Tuesday and we will continue to work with them, as well as Georgia EPD, to safely close our ash ponds,” he said. “We remain committed to compliance with all environmental regulations and ensuring that our closure plans are protective of the environment and the surrounding communities.”
The qualifying fees are set for the 2022 election in Floyd County, with three Floyd County Commission seats and two Floyd County Board of Education seats on the ballot.
Qualifying fees are determined by 3% of the base salary for county commissioners and 3% of the gross salary for school board.
At their Tuesday meeting, commissioners approved $216 as the qualifying fee for county commissioner and school board candidates. Qualifying is in March for the May party primaries. The winners will face off in the November general election.
The four-year terms of Republican incumbent commissioners Rhonda Wallace (Post 1), Larry Maxey (Post 4) and Scotty Hancock (Post 5) end in December. The vote will be countywide.
To run for County Commission, a candidate must be a resident of Floyd County for at least one year. They also must live outside the Rome city limits to qualify for Posts 4 and 5, while Post 1 candidates must live in the city.
All three incumbents have said they plan to run again this year.
Two Floyd County Board of Education seats — held by Republicans Chip Hood and Tony Daniel — also will be up for grabs. Daniel and Hood represent the Pepperell and Armuchee districts respectively.
Candidates must live in the district they’re seeking to represent but the vote is open to all voters except those in the Rome school system.
Both incumbents are planning to run for reelection.
Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price is also up for reelection this year. That seat’s qualifying fee is also 3% of gross salary, or $3,917.17.
Price said he’s unsure if he’s going to run for reelection at this time, but will make an announcement sometime before qualifying week.
Qualifying will take place March 7 through March 11. Candidates can qualify with their political party.
The primary election will take place May 24. If interested in voting in this election, you must register to vote by April 25.
You can register to vote by visiting georgia.gov/register-to-vote.
With the expectation that a large speculative building in the works for Calhoun Highway near Ga. 140 will be filled quickly, Plymouth Industrial REIT is planning to construct another large building on the same property.
On Wednesday morning, Missy Kendrick, president of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority, said the company is planning to build an additional 180,000-square-foot finished spec building on the site.
Plymouth REIT announced in September it would build a 236,600-square-foot industrial spec building on the property in Shannon.
“We’ve got our project managers chomping at the bit to get those buildings out there,” Kendrick told the Development Authority of Floyd County board early Wednesday.
Over the next year, expect to see a good amount of work going at the location, which is cater-cornered to the Lowe’s property at the same intersection.
The site in Shannon already houses Balta Rugs and the Hillman Group is also building its main base of operations there.
“There are a lot of things going on out there and the chance for opportunity haven’t been higher,” DAFC Board Chair Ryan Earnest said.
Plymouth is a well-known name in the market. The company owns and manages over 170 buildings containing more than 28 million square feet in 12 markets. In Georgia, Plymouth REIT has multiple buildings in Atlanta and Savannah, and they also have properties in 10 other states.
For some time, Floyd County has been seeking a developer to invest in a spec building locally to draw new industrial and warehousing prospects to the area. There was land available but, Kendrick said, most prospects are looking for an existing building.
Now that those plans are in the works, board member Corey Townsend asked Kendrick if they’re looking to prepare other locations.
Originally the idea had been to market the remaining property at the Sunrise Manufacturing location off U.S. 411 South for a similar purpose. However, the company is in the process of purchasing that property for an expansion.
Now, Kendrick said, they’re working to find other possible locations and begin marketing existing available sites, like the Braden Farm property off Cartersville Highway near Bass Ferry Road.
Gov. Brian Kemp wants to use a record state budget surplus to cut taxes. The Republican governor proposed $1.6 billion in tax refunds Wednesday, worth $250 for state income tax single filers and $500 for joint filers.
“We should continue to fund our priorities but also be good stewards of that taxpayer money,” Kemp told Georgia political and business leaders during the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
Kemp said the record $3.7 billion budget surplus the state posted at the end of the last fiscal year in June resulted from Georgia’s ability to recover quickly from the recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. While some states shut down businesses during the pandemic’s early months, Kemp chose to keep Georgia’s economy open.
“We chose hope over fear, freedom over lockdowns,” he said. “As a result, our state led the nation in economic recovery.”
Kemp also announced plans to reverse the budget cuts to higher education the state imposed during the Great Recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s.
He said he will ask the General Assembly for $262 million to remove “institutional” fees the University System of Georgia slapped on students during that economic downturn and $25 million to increase the HOPE Scholarship program’s coverage to at least 90% of tuition costs at the state’s public colleges and universities.
The mandatory institutional fees, which were not earmarked for specific purposes such as athletics, have been a major source of complaints by students and their parents. The lottery-funded HOPE program, which used to provide full tuition coverage for eligible students, was reduced in 2011 because growing student enrollment was failing to keep pace with HOPE revenues.
Kemp also announced legislation will be introduced on his behalf during the 2022 General Assembly session to exclude from taxes retirement income earned by members of the military.
While the governor’s tax refund plan likely will enjoy smooth sailing in the Republican-controlled legislature, an Atlanta-based think tank criticized it as overly broad.
“Public opinion data shows that what most Georgians want is not a smaller one-time payment for all taxpayers, but strategically targeted tax relief for those who need it the most,” the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute wrote in a statement.
“State leaders should reconsider the approach to one-time payments and choose a lasting solution that would benefit those hardest hit by the pandemic.”
Also during the Eggs and Issues breakfast, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan pitched his proposal for a $250 million state tax credit to raise money to support law enforcement.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said he will introduce a comprehensive bill aimed at improving mental health services in Georgia by, among other things, providing parity to mental health-care workers.
“For too long, our state has ranked among the worst in the nation for delivering mental-heath services,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “That is a distinction that’s going to change.”
Wednesday’s Eggs and Issues breakfast was the first held inside Midtown Atlanta’s Fox Theatre and the first to be held in person since before the pandemic struck Georgia nearly two years ago.