The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

September 1, 2013

Concerns raised over plans for fertilizer plant

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — City and county officials say they are concerned about plans to add a mixing facility to a fertilizer storage plant near downtown Greenville.

City Attorney Daniel Ray said he is planning to ask the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for an administrative hearing concerning an application for an emissions permit filed by Martinek Grain, for the property at 3001 Bois D’arc Street.

Ray said he briefed the City Council about the permit request last week.

“The city is very worried” Ray said. “I am very worried about the safety of this.”

Hunt County Emergency Management Director Richard Hill said although the site in question falls within the City of Greenville’s jurisdiction, he and County Judge John Horn had met about the situation.

“From an emergency management standpoint, we are concerned,” Hill said. “Anytime you have businesses, homes and people nearby, we’re concerned.”

But Joey Rice, manager of Martinek Grain, said there really was no reason for worry, as the process being sought results in an extremely safe liquid fertilizer which would be stored at the site.

“It looks like water. You could actually put out a fire with this,” Rice said.

A notice of the application for an air quality permit with the TCEQ was published in Thursday’s editions of the Herald-Banner. Mears Fertilizer of El Dorado, Kansas is wanting to construct a “portable polyphosphate blender” on the property, which is expected to emit tiny amounts of anhydrous ammonia and flourides, including hydrogen flouride.

The materials will be mixed in the blender and would create the liquid fertilizer which would be stored in three silos on the property.

While the final product is reportedly safe, Ray said his concerns lie with the anhydrous ammonia and hydrogen flouride — also known as hydroflouric acid — which will be used.

“Two or three times a year they will be bringing in rail cars full of extremely dangerous chemicals,” Ray said.

There are a handful of homes across the street from the property, and two churches are within a half-block from the location. Several businesses are nearby and just down the road is the Hunt County Criminal Justice Center, which contains the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office, the local offices of the Texas Department of Public Safety and more than 300 inmates incarcerated inside the Hunt County Jail.

Ray said he and the Council are wanting to know just how dangerous anhydrous ammonia and hydrogen flouride can be, should there be a worst case scenario involving the chemicals stored in the tank cars or during the mixing process, resulting in a release of significant amounts of the chemicals.

Health experts warn symptoms can include anything from burning of the eyes, nose, and throat after breathing small amounts, to death from a high level of exposure.

“My concern for the city is, obviously, safety,” Ray said, noting that the Centers for Disease Control advises that a major leak of the chemicals would require an evacuation of the population within a one-mile radius of the site.

“We’d have to evacuate everything north of Joe Ramsey Boulevard,” Ray said.

Rice denied that there was any hazard involved in the mixing process.

“It might look rough. There might be some ammonia smell,” Rice said. “There is absolutely no danger of an explosion.”

Rice did admit there was a potential, although unlikely, threat if there were a significant leakage of the chemicals.

“In the event of a catastrophic failure, you could have that,” Rice said, adding the company who would do the mixing is considered the tops in the field. “They are nationwide.”

No decision on the permit will be made right away. The TCEQ will be taking comments from the public for the next 30 days. What happens after that depends on what the agency hears.

“It is a fairly lengthy process,” said TCEQ spokesperson Andrea Morrow.

Morrow said the application for the permit is “technically complete”, meaning it has undergone a review of the technical aspects.

“It now moves into the public comment period,” Morrow said.

If there is a request for an administrative hearing on the issue, Morrow said the Commission would determine whether the request(s) came from “affected parties” — meaning those in closest proximity to the site who would be most likely to be affected. If the requests come from affected parties, then the application is referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which would schedule the hearing in the case.

“It is kind of like a criminal court hearing, before a judge,” Morrow explained.

During the hearing, the TCEQ would only be on hand to provide technical testimony.

The judge would then refer the case back to the TCEQ, with a proposal for a decision.

The agency would then again take comments from both sides, Morrow said, before deciding whether to issue, deny or modify the permit. Morrow said there will also be a period following the agency’s decision, where affected parties can seek to overturn it.

Rice said the liquid fertilizer which is produced at the mixing fertilizer is used by area farmers, who will come to the site, buy the material and then spread it on their fields.

“It just puts off a little bit of an ammonia smell,” Rice said. “There is no worry about anything happening like in West.”

Those seeking additional information about plans for the fertilizer mixing facility at 3001 Bois D’arc Street in Greenville can contact the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality at 1-817-588-5800 and reference permit application 96258L003.