Fight looms over proposed Maury County mega trash site
Lawmakers Hensley and Cepicky ask for halt on approval until community weighs in
A locked gate keeps trespassers out of the former Monsanto plant property in Maury County, which Trinity Business Group proposes developing for a regional waste center. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A Louisiana company’s plan to construct large-scale trash recycling, tire shredding and incineration operations on a federally designated Superfund site in Maury County is receiving increasing pushback.
Trinity Business Group in June applied for a state permit to establish the mega waste site on a rural stretch of land just outside the county seat of Columbia and in close proximity to the Duck River, an important source of water for the region. In size and scale outlined in its application, the site could rival Middle Point Landfill in Rutherford County, which accepts the bulk of household trash from 34 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
But it wasn’t until months after the company had notified the state of its intentions — and only after an alert local resident contacted the Sierra Club about trucks rumbling onto the long-shuttered property — that the plans became public.
We shouldn’t be allowing (Tennessee Department of of Environment and Conservation) to be making decision like these . . .TDEC is supposed to be protecting public interests in this regard.
– Scott Banbury, Sierra Club of Tennessee, of a state agency's rule allowing a landfill company to gain approval without community input.
Maury County residents opposed to the waste complex have since organized two community meetings. County leaders, who said they were also caught off-guard by the plans, are fast tracking a measure known as the “Jackson Law,” which requires public meetings and a vote from the County Commission before such operations can be approved by state officials. And state Sen. Joey Hensley and Rep. Scott Cepicky, Republicans who represent the area, have asked the state to put a break on the approval process until the community can weigh in.
On Thursday, they will appear at a town hall meeting organized to oppose Trinity Business Group’s plans for the property, where the Monsanto Chemical Plant once manufactured fertilizer and ingredients for chemical warfare. The site has lain undisturbed for decades.
While a fight looms ahead over the fate of the Monsanto property, Sierra Club’s Scott Banbury said Wednesday that the dispute highlights shortcoming in rules set by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, that allowed the company to avoid public attention in the first place. The company initially applied under TDEC “permit by rule” guidelines, which do not require broad public notice.
“We shouldn’t be allowing TDEC to be making decision like these,” said Banbury, conservation program coordinator for Sierra Club’s Tennessee chapter. “They ought to be notifying the public. Without that public notice, it falls on citizens to be vigilant themselves.”
TDEC may have also failed to do due diligence in examining existing local solid waste laws.
In Columbia, city officials enacted a measure a decade ago requiring local approval for a landfill or waste processing facility. Columbia’s 2012 Jackson Law applies within the city and up to a mile outside its limits, where the Monsanto property lies.
“TDEC is supposed to be protecting public interests in this regard, but they obviously did not look at the right map when they decided the Jackson Law did not apply,” said Banbury.
TDEC is now weighing “additional information related to the potential Jackson Law applicability at the site and as of this time the matter is currently under review to ensure that all site applications comply with relevant law and rules,” said Kim Schofinski, a TDEC spokesperson.
TDEC has now put its preliminary permit approval for the company’s tire shredding facility on hold.
In the meantime, Trinity Business Group has re-filed permit applications with TDEC for municipal waste and construction/demolition waste.
Under Columbia’s Jackson law – and with the expected passage of Maury County’s Jackson law – all three permits will require public input, public hearings and approval by the county and city.
In new filings related to the company’s original plans to add an incinerator to the site, Trinity Business Group removed all mentions of the word “incinerator.”
The new filings say that the company will instead use a “thermal demanufacturing” process to destroy trash and debris it cannot recycle. A 2019 Tennessee law exempts this process, which heats and melts rather than burns, from the same permit and oversight rules that an incinerator requires.
A message left with a Trinity Business Group receptionist on Wednesday was not returned.
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