Members of Citizens for a Healthy and Safe Environment (CHASE) told state Reps. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) and Dar’Shun Kendrick(D-Lithonia) at a Jan. 16 public hearing at the Georgia General Assembly that South DeKalb is already overrun by health hazards and doesn’t need any more.
Edward Totten, who lives in Lithonia, said South DeKalb already has landfills, crematories and explosive manufacturing connected with rock quarries.
“Why would you allow a biomass plant to come into our community that’s already loaded down with environmental problems,” he said.
Residents, who feel abandoned by the county, which approved zoning for the $60 million plant in 2011, are now looking to the legislators for help.
They argue that bringing another environmentally harmful plant to the area would be environmental racism because the area already have a disporportionate share and its air quality is already compromised.
“Is there anything you can do to keep this deadly plant out of Lithonia?” asked Gina Mangham, an active CHASE member.
Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson suggested there might be language from the federal Environmental Protection Agency that might form the basis of a state law.
Drenner asked Jackson to follow up and send her details of the language.
Jack Capp, chief of the EPD’s Air Protection Division, calmly took questions from Drenner and citizens while explaining how his agency will decide whether to issue a state permit to the plant operators.
“In the end our only authority to make a decision and grant a permit is whether or not emission standards are in compliance with the rules and the law and that’s how the decision will be made,” he said.
Green Energy Partners wants to build the plant on a 21-acre site at 1744 and 1770 Rogers Lake Road to convert wood chips into electricity to sell to Georgia Power. Developers say it will generate $200,000 in revenues for the county, create 100 jobs during construction and 25 permanent positions, and add $50 million to the tax digest.
Opponents say the facility and the truck traffic would generate harmful pollutants that would affect the health of residents for miles.
The DeKalb Board of Commissioners approved a 20-year contract to sell yard trimmings to Green Energy Partners before approving a special land use permit to allow the plant in June 2011.
CHASE sued the county a month later alleging that it engaged in contract zoning by granting the contract to Green Energy Partners, then approving the zoning to make it happen.
The citizens group has asked the judge to declare the rezoning decision “to be a manifest abuse of the zoning power and therefore illegal and void.”
The lawsuit, filed in July 2011, is making its way through DeKalb Superior Court.
Dr. Jewel Crawford, a CHASE coordinator, said biomass plants have been known to emit dioxin, PCBs and other contaminants into the atmosphere.
Rev. Stevie Banks of Big Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church grew up near where the proposed plant wants to locate. His mother still lives there.
“You should also consider all the emissions that truck traffic will produce going into and out the plant,” he said.
The EPD’s Jack Capp said he has no timeline for a decision on a permit for the plant and thanked the residents for their input at the series of hearings.
Later Drenner said the citizens comments were “loud and clear and made a definite impression” on the EPD chief.
She plans to brief other members of the DeKalb delegation about the hearing.