Almost 20 people spoke last Thursday on CPI USA’s request for new stormwater and wastewater discharge permits for its Southport steam and electric power plant, with most asking for increased scrutiny of the plant’s operation and several raising concerns about air quality.
The facility produces process steam for the nearby Archer Daniels Midland citric acid plant, and generates 88 megawatts of electricity which it sells to Duke Energy. Formerly known as Cogentrix, the plant opened in 1987. It has been operating under an administrative extension of a previous permit for several years. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is now requiring the operation to obtain wastewater discharge and stormwater management permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which sets a higher standard.
Brunswick Environmental Action Team (BEAT), the Southern Environmental Law Center and two other environmental groups, joined by the towns of Caswell Beach and Oak Island, requested the public hearing.
Before DEQ posted a notice about the permits through local media outlets, many local
officials and residents were unaware that wastewater of any kind was going from CPI into Duke Energy’s nuclear reactor cooling water canal, which takes water from the Cape Fear River and pipes it 2,000 feet offshore from Caswell beach into the Atlantic Ocean.
At last Thursday’s hearing, DEQ permitting specialists Derek Denard and Lauren Garcia walked the audience through CPI’s operations, noting that water from the plant that comes in contact with stockpiled fuel is treated as wastewater. A V-shaped catch basin surrounds the waste wood, old tires and coal that is burned and directed to two 500,000-gallon settling basins. Rainfall from elsewhere on the facility is monitored and directed to the Duke cooling water canal.
Denard said the plant burned 49-percent wood waste (which includes creosote-treated railroad ties), 40-percent shredded old tires and 11-percent coal.
The wastewater stream includes reverse osmosis filter reject water and water used to remove bottom ash from the six boilers. It is decanted in concrete settling basins that each hold 500,000 gallons. Operators remove accumulated solids from the basins by draining water from one to the other, letting it settle, then pulling the solids out with front-end loaders.
Denard said the draft permit calls for an analysis of 126 “priority pollutants,” once per permit term, which is every five years. Other parameters such as oils, chromium, copper, zinc, pH and chemical oxygen demand are subject to more regular tests, some as often as once a week.
During the hearing, Nick Jimenez of the Southern Environmental Law Center asked for additional testing of the wastewater discharge. He also asked that the state consider whether CPI’s catchment basins around fuel piles could handle the larger, more frequent storms that have affected the area. The group is particularly concerned about water that moves bottom ash.
Kerri Allen of the N.C. Coastal Federation expressed similar concerns about bottom ash and the potential release of oils.
“A healthy beach and clean water are essential,” said Caswell Beach Mayor Deborah Ahlers. She said she did not want to see CPI handed “undue burdens,” but residents “should know what’s there.”
Pete Key, president of BEAT, asked that the discharge not include bottom ash and stated that the release of harmful chemicals could harm tourism. He suggested that CPI hold an open house with local leaders to “show what they do.”
Caswell Beach resident Emily Wilkins offered to give state officials and others a tour of the area surrounding the discharge point.
Southport Alderman Karen Mosteller questioned whether the plant’s pollution controls, installed in 1987, had kept up with the times and technology. Southport Alderman Lora Sharkey said she wanted to ensure that CPI had adopted best management practices and was resilient to increased stormwater pollution risks from stronger, more frequent storms.
Merle Baldwin of Oak Island said he used to work in the hazardous waste cleanup industry, and suggested DEQ require scans for the priority pollutants twice a year instead of once every permit cycle (five years). He also asked that more tests be based on composite samples, instead of single grab samples.
Ed Dazewiezri of Oak Island questioned whether the state should rely on CPI’s own sampling. He said after the recent discovery of fluorinated pollutants going into the Cape Fear from Chemours, many lack faith in the system.
“We’re relying on you people to keep us safe,” he told the DEQ staff.
Some speakers expressed concern about air pollution from the plant, although that was not the topic of the hearing. A malfunction two years ago coated some neighborhoods with ash, and residents said they wondered whether CPI had really resolved the problem.
Carole Kozloski, who said ash from the plant falls on her house and car regularly, told the DEQ staff, “Fix it.”
William North of Prices Creek displayed gray and black-stained rags he said were recently used to wipe fly ash from his car.
“The stuff you’re wiping off your cars, you can’t wipe off your lungs,” said Dr. Joe Pat Hatem, mayor-elect of Southport. “Anything I can do as mayor and a physician, I will do to protect the citizens.”
Another resident said she could not use the herbs she and her husband grow in their yard because they are often covered with soot.
After the close of the public hearing period the hearing officer will make a recommendation to the DEQ director, who is required to issue a decision within 90 days of the public hearing (no later than February 19, 2020). If granted, the permits would be good for five years.
Written and emailed comments from the public will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Monday, December 23. Mail should go to Derek Denard, N.C. Division of Water Resources, Water Quality Permitting Section, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1617. Email should go to PublicComments@ncdenr.gov (put “CPI” in the subject line).
The draft permit is available at https://deq.nc.gov/news/events/public-hearing-cpi-usa-north-carolina-llc-wastewater-stormwater-permits.