Oil re-refinery project in Bibb may not happen

The Macon Water Authority is expected to vote today to create a policy that would prevent a proposed oil re-refinery from locating in Bibb County, unless it pays to haul its liquid waste elsewhere.

The policy, which is expected to pass, would exclude “centralized waste treatment” operations from using Macon’s sewer system. As defined by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, such facilities treat or recover oily waste, hazardous or nonhazardous metal-bearing waste, and certain other kinds of waste from off site.

“We’re averse to such facilities because of their risks to the sewer system,” said Mark Wyzalek, the authority’s environmental compliance manager.

Toxic or corrosive elements in sewage can disable a sewage treatment plant, potentially causing raw sewage to flow into waterways. In this case, the Macon Water Authority would be held responsible if the Ocmulgee River were contaminated.

Massachusetts-based Green Renewable Oil, partnering with Sequoia Energy & Environment, have been working with the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority on the possibility of opening a plant at Allied Industrial Park that would recycle used motor oil. Although Water Authority officials released the names of the companies involved in January, Industrial Authority officials have a confidentiality agreement with the companies and refer to the prospect as “Project Duncan.”

The refinery would process oily waste. In addition, Green Renewable Oil’s Web site indicates that the process removes toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, benzene and toluene.

Wyzalek said representatives of Green Renewable Oil, Sequoia and the Water Authority met Feb. 19. Wyzalek told them their operation would qualify as a centralized waste treatment facility, and that the authority’s Engineering Committee had voted to prohibit such facilities just the day before.

Today, the full board is expected to finalize that policy at its 4:30 p.m. meeting, said authority Director Tony Rojas. The policy change is endorsed by the state Environmental Protection Division’s environmental engineer for industrial pretreatment, according to a memo from Wyzalek to board members.

Rojas said, “It’s basically been an operating policy in the past, but I think making it an official policy makes it clearer for industry and makes it easier for the Chamber (of Commerce) when they’re talking to industry.”

Pat Topping, vice chairman of the Macon Economic Development Commission, said geotechnical engineers for the Project Duncan companies discussed the option of hauling the waste elsewhere to be treated.

Topping said he doesn’t know whether the companies are exploring what that would cost. Their project coordinators have been out of the country.

Wyzalek pointed out that fewer than 150 centralized waste treatment operations nationwide are served by public sewer systems, and EPA guidance states that few of these operations “achieve optimum pollutant removals.”

Wyzalek said the authority is not treating Project Duncan differently than other companies. The authority in 2003 also refused overtures from General Environmental Management LLC, which was interested in opening a centralized waste treatment facility to deal with oily waste. He said the authority’s decision proved to be a wise one.

Documents from U.S. District Court in Ohio show that General Environmental Management and its vice president were sentenced in January for making false statements regarding the company’s plant in Cleveland. The charges involved falsifying documents to hide illegal hazardous waste storage and falsifying documents to hide that it was releasing higher-than-permitted amounts of a toxic substance into the sewer system.

Information from The Telegraph archive was included in this report.

To reach writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.