Fairburn nixes biomed waste facility

Tue, 08/11/2009 - 4:06pm
By: Ben Nelms

The motions were as complicated as the discussion surrounding a proposal by Seattle-based TreatMed, Inc. to establish a biomedical waste treatment plant on Creekwood Road on Fairburn’s south side. But by the end of the Aug. 10 City Council meeting the conceptual site plan had been voted down. The only recourse remaining for the project is a potential court challenge.

The TreatMed project was proposed in two phases. The first phase would construct a 14,200 square-foot biomedical waste treatment facility on 4.22 acres that would begin construction in November and be completed in the third quarter of 2010.

The second phase slated for 2016 would see the construction of a 16,000 square-foot biomedical waste treatment equipment manufacturing plant and office building operated by the French-owned Ecodas. Ecodas operates pressure and steam sterilization manufacturing plants in numerous countries on several continents.

The Aug. 10 meeting began with Mayor Betty Hannah reading a prepared statement, saying that in no uncertain terms she had informed city staff that Fairburn would not consider a medical waste treatment facility, regardless of the jobs and revenue it would bring. Hannah said that, if allowed, it would give the impression that Fairburn is a dumping ground.

“There will be not be any medical waste treatment facility in Fairburn,” Hannah said.

Those comments were met with applause from the packed meeting room and were followed by similar comments from the dozen members of the public who took the podium during the public hearing being held to determine if TreatMed’s proposal was consistent with the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP).

One of those addressing the council was Downtown Development Authority Chair Barkley Russell, who reiterated the authority’s belief that the project was not consistent with the SWMP and recommended denial of the conceptual site plan.

Another speaker during public comments was south Fulton Commissioner Bill Edwards who was accompanied at the meeting by several Fulton County department heads. Edwards said project attorney Doug Dillard’s “constitutional notices do not scare us,” adding that Fulton County still controls the access to the right-of-way on Creekwood Road that would presumably prevent the type of vehicular traffic that would be needed to serve the plant.

“Fulton County stands with you if you deny it,” Edwards said to the council. “If you don’t deny it we’ll be back.”

Edward’s reference was to Dillard’s statement moments earlier that the council’s discretion is limited because the treatment plant is a permitted use in the manufacturing zoning district and that a denial of the conceptual site plan would be unconstitutional. Dillard’s statement was followed by the assertion from both citizens and some on the council that such a proposal was not a permitted use for the M-1-zoned property.

After extensive and convoluted discussion on the many issues surrounding the proposal, the council voted unanimously that the TreatMed plan was not consistent with the criteria of the SWMP and that the conceptual site plan would be denied.

The only option now for TreatMed would be to have the issue decided in court. That decision has not been announced.

It was obvious from some of the audience comments Aug. 10 that the topic was an emotional one. The public had to be asked on more than one occasion to allow the speaker to be heard. It was also clear that many in the audience were not aware that what was unfolding was essentially a replay of the emotion-laden Walker Brothers proposal in 2007 to establish a waste transfer station on Bohannon Road. The transfer station was a permitted use in the zoning district.

Regardless of the denial by the planning commission and city council at the time, the challenge was eventually upheld in Fulton County Superior Court and the transfer station was allowed to be established on Bohannon Road.

But even the Walker Brothers situation was not the first time that Fairburn had dealt with environmentally-labled issues that were asserted to potentially cause harm to citizens and the community.

Far from hypothetical, a number of Fairburn’s residents were sickened during mid-2006 after being exposed to an organophosphate pesticide “wash water” material from a nearby non-hazardous waste treatment plant. Yet to date since mid-2006, the city has not removed waste treatment plants as permitted uses in its zoning districts.

In an issue related to the TreatMed proposal, some had questioned how the company had come to choose Fairburn to locate its facility and whether City Administrator Jim Williams or other city staff had somehow solicited the proposal.

The results of an open records request by The Citizen showed that on June 13, 2008, Fairburn received a communication from Marva Bryan, financial services manager for the Development Authority of Fulton County, requesting that a meeting be scheduled for her to introduce Squalli to city staff.

Commenting last week on the specifics of the proposed facility, TreatMed President David Squalli said the facility would process “red bag” waste from facilities such as physicians offices, dentist offices and hospitals.

Using Ecodas biomedical waste treatment equipment, the material is shredded, pressurized and heated with steam to sterilize everything, he said. Unlike other biomedical waste that is not sterilized, Squalli said the end product is appropriate for shipment to municipal solid waste landfills.

“Ours is an alternative type of treatment aimed at negating the problems with chemical treatment and incineration,” Squalli said.

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