Monday, September 04, 2006

Written 9/4/06

Rocky Branch to Treat Industrial Waste

We still need letters sent to the state Environment Protection Division if we are going to get a public hearing on the County’s request to begin dumping treated wastewater from the Rocky Branch Waste Treatment Plant into Barber Creek.

Here’s another reason to want that hearing: The Rocky Branch Waste Treatment Plant will treat INDUSTRIAL waste as well as residential waste.

In July the pharmaceutical company Novartis announced that it was bypassing Georgia and building its influenza vaccine plant in North Carolina instead.

The Georgia location that Novartis was considering was at Georgia Highway 316 and U.S. Highway 78. The land is referred to as the Orkin Tract. It lies in Oconee and Clarke Counties.

The Rocky Branch Waste Treatment Plant in Oconee County would have treated the waste from Novartis had it located here. The treated water would have gone into Barber Creek. The County has said it will seek other pharmaceuticals for the site.

During the speculation before Novartis announced its decision, I started an email exchange with Chris Thomas in the Oconee County Utility Department about special procedures that would be in place to protect citizens who live along Barber Creek should a vaccine manufacturer locate at the Orkin Tract.

That exchange is posted on the Friends of Barber Creek web site, in the library. The exact URL is The item was posted on 7/15/06. You can see for yourself what would happen.

Clearly, some safeguards are in place. But they depend on a lot of monitoring, which we need to insist is in place should the EPD grant a permit to Oconee County. Here’s a summary of what Mr. Thomas said.

First, the federal Environmental Protection Agency requires pharmaceuticals to pretreat their waste before discharging into sewer systems.

Second, the County also sets limits on what can be put into its sewage system, Mr. Thomas said.

Third, the plants can "handle higher loadings than their influent flows would normally bring." In other words, the plant should be able to handle the inflow even if it didn’t meet the pretreatment standards.

Finally, Mr. Thomas wrote, "These safeguards along with stringent effluent monitoring and
limits at the wastewater plants insure consistently safe discharges into streams and rivers as required under the rules of NPDES permitting."

NPDES refers to the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, the permit program that requires all those discharging pollutants into waters of the United States to obtain a permit.

Mr. Thomas subsequently explained that Oconee County’s pretreatment limits "mimic" the federal standards, and, in fact, at present the Georgia Environmental Protection Division "regulates all significant industrial users for the County due to our small number of users...Oconee is in the process of implementing it's own pretreatment program, but it will be some time before we complete all of the requirements necessary."

Mr. Thomas also said "I may have been confusing when I referred to the stringent monitoring of the plants effluent. Although all treatment plants are closely monitored to ensure protection of the environment and public health, I was referring to the reuse limits. Reuse limits are more stringent than most plants in the state operate under."

In other words, the plant will be following state standards for production of "reuse" quality water.

How closely this is going to be monitored is something that we all should be concerned about, particularly if the Orkin Tract is developed as planned. The state has made it clear it would love to have another company such as Novartis locate here.

This is the kind of question we can pose at a public hearing on the Oconee County permit request if the EPD grants us a hearing. But we have to write and ask. Here is a draft letter:


Linda MacGregor, Branch Chief
Water Protection Branch
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Environmental Protection Division
4220 International Parkway, Suite 101Atlanta, GA 30354

Dear Ms. MacGregor:

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is seeking NPDES Permit No. GA0038806 for the Rocky Branch Water Reclamation Facility on Rocky Branch Road. The permit is to provide for a discharge flow of 1.0 million gallons per day of treated wastewater to Barber Creek.


I am aware that the state and local officials have tried to get a major pharmaceutical manufacturer to locate at the Orkin Tract in the county in the past and have said they will continue to do so. I also know that the Rocky Branch facility would be the treatment plant for effluent from the manufacturer.

I ask that you hold a public hearing on this request so that I can learn about state standards on pretreatment of industrial waste and monitoring procedures that will guarantee the safety of the water flowing into Barber Creek, should you grant a permit to Oconee County.



Please let me know when you write. I am keeping a tally.



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