Feed company to bring jobs, waste

 

A company connected to one responsible for an explosion near Houston after Hurricane Harvey is one step closer to operating in Calhoun County.

The executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved this month Novus International Inc.'s request to drill two hazardous waste disposal wells despite receiving a few comments from concerned residents.

Jeff Klopfenstein, the president of the group within Novus that's proposed a plant in Calhoun County, wrote in a statement that TCEQ's approval of the two hazardous disposal wells was exciting.

"It shows that should the project move forward, this is a location which takes into account the safety of the environment and local community. This is critical to Novus as a company who has been safely producing product for over 25 years," he wrote.

The TCEQ's executive director doesn't have the final say, though.

Residents can ask in the next few weeks for him to reconsider or for a hearing. Otherwise, the matter will go to a vote at an upcoming TCEQ meeting.

"I just cannot believe that we as citizens can see the history of what a company has done elsewhere, and the state will not take that into account. It's like we can't do anything preventative. They want it to happen and then we can say, 'Oh my, we made a mistake,'" said one commenter, Diane Wilson, an environmental activist in Seadrift.

Novus owns a plant in Beaumont. Arkema operates that plant, and it produces the same product Novus' proposed plant in Calhoun County will, a feed supplement called Alimet.

Specifically, one of the things Novus will manufacture in Calhoun County is methionine, which the TCEQ describes as an amino acid added to livestock feed grains for milk and egg production and for muscle growth.

"The supplement allows livestock and poultry producers to formulate feed that has precisely the right nutrients for each growth stage of healthy animals," Klopfenstein wrote.

The TCEQ said the hazardous wastes Novus will generate from manufacturing this include pyridine, acetonitrile, formic acid, methanol, chlorides, cyanide, phenols and benzene.

One of these wastes is a carcinogen, while the others are flammable and explosive, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Arkema became a household name because of a recent explosion.

According to the Associated Press, Arkema's plant in Crosby, which is not owned by Novus, lost power and was inundated with water during Harvey.

Crosby is about 25 miles northeast of Houston.

The plant's loss of power forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents for a week.

Liquid organic peroxides at the plant destabilized and exploded, injuring 15 firefighters.

Arkema's plant in Crosby manufactures something different than the one Novus is trying to build in Calhoun County.

"Our raw materials and products are stable, even in the event of an extended power failure," Klopfenstein wrote.

The plant Arkema operates for Novus in Beaumont isn't the only plant Novus owns in Texas.

It has another in Brazoria County, about eight miles south of the intersection of SH 35 and Farm-to-Market Road 2917.

TCEQ records show the plant has had at least two hazardous disposal wells.

One hazardous disposal well is owned by Novus but operated by Ascend Performance Materials Texas, Inc. Another was owned by Novus and operated by Ascend. Now, it is owned by MHBA CB.

Novus, Arkema, Ascend and MHBA have satisfactory compliance histories with the TCEQ, but over the years, the TCEQ has cited both plants for air emissions.

Still, Klopfenstein said Novus' plant in Brazoria County has been certified as an "OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) VPP Star" since 1996.

TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said she was unaware of Novus' connection to Arkema and that wasn't considered when deciding on Novus' application for two hazardous waste disposal well in Calhoun County.

The TCEQ also addressed commenters' concerns about groundwater.

Novus' hazardous waste will be injected between 5,795 to 6,495 feet below ground level. The hazardous disposal wells will be beneath rock that will prevent the waste from contaminating drinking water, TCEQ said.

But Wilson and another commenter, Cheyenne Jurasek, want Novus to periodically test the ground water to ensure that.

"TCEQ says their disposal wells are going to be perfect, but, shoot, all you got to do is read through the history of enforcement on any chemical plant and you will see how everything they thought wasn't going to happen ends up happening over and over again," Wilson said.

TCEQ said the closest water well to the hazardous waste disposal wells Novus is proposing is a little more than three football fields away. Ineos also operates three hazardous waste disposal wells in the area, and the TCEQ does not think Novus' activity will affect them.

This is all still too close for Janie Waghorne, who is also concerned about the groundwater.

"My family has lived in Seadrift for over 100 years and are generations of commercial fishermen who have made their livelihoods on the San Antonio Bay estuarine area. I dearly love the bays and spend many hours with my grandchildren on the water," she wrote to the TCEQ.

Novus' proposed plant and hazardous disposal wells in Calhoun County will be about 6.5 miles from Bloomington near Green Lake.

In 2012, Calhoun County purchased thousands of acres of land around Green Lake for $3.5 million with the intention of making it into a park.

Calhoun Commissioner Kenny Finster said that's still the plan, but he's focusing on recovering from Harvey, which has devastated much of his precinct.

Alexander Padgett, meanwhile, has walked his dog, a Shih Tzu named Cesar, at Green Lake a few times before and wants to see its beauty preserved.

He learned about Novus' plans via Facebook and submitted his first comment ever to TCEQ afterward.

"I know the waste is going to be underground, but knowing it's there is a huge concern for me," he said.

Finster said Novus is already making its mark in Calhoun County. He's seen a sign for the company while driving down SH 185.

In a letter to the county asking for a tax abatement last year, Novus wrote it would generate an estimated $1.8 million in ad valorem taxes during the abatement and have a 20 year life afterward.

Novus wrote it would create at least 10 permanent jobs and employ more than 300 temporary construction workers.

The county gave the company a 10-year, 100 percent tax abatement in exchange for it paying it $1 million in 2019 and $700,000 in 2021.

"We feel like we have the right project, utilizing the right people, and are looking for the right place to move forward," Klopfenstein wrote. "We are confident that the jobs and investment that the project will bring will be welcomed by the local community in whatever location is decided on."

To read the TCEQ's letter about Novus, click here.

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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