Maury County considers law to regulate proposed facility on Monsanto site

By: - October 17, 2022 6:02 am
The property is now home to four Superfund sites, a designation given by the federal government to property containing hazardous substances harmful to human health for generations to come. 

The site in Maury County at which Monsanto Chemicals formerly operated. The property is now home to four Superfund sites, a designation given by the federal government to property containing hazardous substances harmful to human health. (Photo: John Partipilo)

In an urgent effort by local officials to claim a role in deciding whether privately-owned trash facilities are built in their community, the Maury County Commission today will consider passage of the Jackson Law.

The Jackson Law requires local approval for any commercially-operated landfill – or facility that processes household and commercial garbage, such as trash sorting and recycling. It must be affirmatively adopted by local governments. Dozens of Tennessee cities and counties thus far have enacted it

Maury County officials moved quickly to add a vote on the Jackson Law to their meeting agenda once plans emerged publicly that a Louisiana company plans to build a large-scale tire shredding, waste processing and incineration complex on the former site of the Monsanto Chemical Company. The property, adjacent to the Duck River, is now a federally designated Superfund site as a result of dangerous chemicals once manufactured there, and residue of the operations that remain buried on the property. 

If that Superfund site is continually disturbed and continually built on, and it contaminates the Duck River, it also contaminates one of Maury County’s largest economic exports, and that is cattle.

– Trevor Pennington, Maury County cattle farmer

State officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation were alerted about the plans by Louisiana-based Trinity Business Group as early as June, but residents only learned about them after spotting trucks and other activity inside the fenced in property last month. 

Residents say they are concerned about air and water pollution, particularly the impact on the Duck River adjacent to the Superfund property eyed for the waste site, as well as the impact on property values and local roadways unable to support heavy traffic bringing in trash from multiple counties.

RitaMarie Gammage moved to Maury County five years ago with her four children. Los Angeles-born and accustomed to urban life, Grammage and now her kids camp by the Duck River and drink fresh spring water. She is concerned that runoff from disturbing the Monsanto site and from any new trash burning facility could irreparably harm the environment where her children are thriving.

“I’m a city girl,” said Gammage, a social media and event planner who quickly established a “Don’t Trash Maury County” Facebook page and organized community meetings last month once word of the trash plans emerged. “I don’t want them to do to this county what I’ve seen done in other cities. I want it to remain this way.

Trevor Pennington’s cattle drink from county water drawn from the Duck River. His farm in Williamsport is located just a few miles from the Monsanto site. He has warned Maury County elected officials that the plans could impact a major economic driver in the rural community.

“The Duck River is under enough attack as it is currently with unsustainable growth from the city,” Pennington told Maury County Commissioners weighing the Jackson Law on its first reading last week. “If that Superfund site is continually disturbed and continually built on, and it contaminates the Duck River, it also contaminates one of Maury County’s largest economic exports, and that is cattle.”

“It seems very irresponsible to me that this is even a consideration,” Pennington said.

Gary Growe, also a longtime resident of Williamsport, noted the importance of the Duck River for biodiversity and recreation. 

“I kayak the Duck several times a year.  I fish in the Duck. I own land on the Duck and it provides my drinking water,” Growe said.

Stagnant water on the site of a former Monsanto plant in Maury County. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Stagnant water on the site of a former Monsanto plant in Maury County. (Photo: John Partipilo)

“I fear the construction process could possibly disturb some deadly toxins known to be buried (on the Monsanto property) and potentially leak them into the Duck River and surrounding environment, and in doing so, contaminate our the source of our drinking water and fresh air,” he said. 

The Maury County Commission is expected to pass the Jackson Law, but officials in Columbia — the county seat  —  in 2012 adopted their own version of the measure requiring local approval for waste facilities within city limits — and extending up to a mile outside of them.

The city’s Jackson Law should have prompted officials with TDEC that Trinity Business Group’s proposal for a mega waste site was subject to Columbia’s approval, according to Scott Banbury, conservation program coordinator for Sierra Club’s Tennessee Chapter. 

TDEC has since put its preliminary approval for the company’s tire shredding facility on hold, while the company has refiled permit applications for it’s municipal waste facility and separate construction waste facility to comply with Columbia’s Jackson Law.

But the company has also refiled a separate permit application for a massive waste incinerating operation on the site, designed to take advantage of a loophole the Legislature carved out in 2019 for “thermal demanufacturing.”

Trinity Business Group replaced all mentions of the word “incinerator” in its application with “thermal demanufacturing,” a gassification process that heats and melts, rather than burns. Under the 2019 state law, thermal demanufacturing is exempt from the same permit and oversight rules that an incinerator requires. 

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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