What began as a calm meeting at the Whitsett Community Center between residents and Zinc Resources LLC soon turned into a heated discussion, as the company explained their business and plans for the plant.
Approximately 70 people attended the Feb. 10 meeting with Zinc Resources LLC, the company that applied to the Texas Commission on Envrionmental Quality (TCEQ) for an air quality permit. Per the application, the construction of an electric arc furnace (EAF) Dust Recycling Plant is proposed at 657 FM Road 99 in Whitsett in Live Oak County.
Dignitaries attending the over two-hour meeting included Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff and Live Oak County Commissioner Emilio Garza.
Zinc Resources CEO Ron Crittendon said they are getting contracts signed with Steel Dynamics in Sinton to handle their EAF dust. He explained that the project is scheduled to begin in August. The proposed Whitsett facility was described by AJ Hansborough of Trinity Consulting as what will be a “hazardous waste processing facility,” not a zinc smelter.
“It is a fast-track proj ect and we need to get it on the ground, up and running as quickly as possible,” said Crittendon.
While some Whitsett residents may have noticed the surveyors at the proposed site, Crittendon shared the first official notice anyone had that something was going to be built was from an ad in The Progress newspaper. Soon afterwards, signs went up along the property line. Crittendon said most people don’t know what such a project does and that it is a bad position for him to put the citizens in.
“I do apologize. Since we can’t go back and fix it, all I know we can do is try and go forward,” Crittendon said.
Prior to moving to Spring, he lived in Dickson, Tenn. Crittendon then shared some details on Zinc Resources, stating they are established international experts in zinc recycling. Crittendon further stated that they are dedicated to technological excellence, the communities they are in and their employees.
“What we do is, for this facility, is recycle steel plant waste into usable products,” said Crittendon.
He estimates about another 10-15 projects coming in to support the SDI project in Sinton and the Whitsett plant is one of them. Crittendon predicts the Whitsett operation will bring in 55-70 full-time jobs with an annual local payroll of $2.4 million. (This figure does not include Crittendon, the lead engineer or chairman offices). They will bring in more revenue for local businesses, he added, as there will be trucks moving in and out and they will be buying gas, supplies, uniforms, etc.
“Overall, basically we’re trying to bring some prosperity to the community,” said Crittendon. “We’re in the business basically to make a profit, like any other business, but we also want to be part of the community wherever we are at. We don’t want to go into a community and make it less than it was before.”
They are 100 percent committed to building a state-of-the-art facility, shared Crittendon. He then spoke about Steel Dynamics, which recycles scrap steel found in numerous items. This saves a huge amount of energy and uses less water than making steel from new material, said Crittendon. Another benefit is that you don’t have to mine the ores.
“But somebody has to recycle them. It’s not necessarily pretty. We have a big burning facility that I’ll show you in just a second, but that’s an electric arc furnace,” Crittendon said.
He shared a slide presentation of the typical “Waelz Kiln Process,” which he said is relatively simple. Trucks come in bringing in the EAF dust, which is then mixed and dropped into a kiln. It goes through a long, slow burning process inside the kiln, which is not open. The oxide comes out the back and the iron product comes out to the other side and sold to the cement industry and for construction material.
The oxide gets collected in their collector systems and filters, gets back out into the truck, rail car or reshipped back to zinc smelters, said Crittendon.
“We are not a zinc smelter, I heard that or read that somewhere. We are not a zinc smetler, but we do sell our products to zinc smelters,” added Crittendon.
Another Zinc Resources representative went on to describe EAF dust and the process from the rail car to the building furthermore. Crittendon added that the two end results, the iron product and the loss oxide, are both sold and used.
“There is nothing else that leaves that facility. There is no wastewater,” said Crittendon.
He told the audience the waste will be typical office waste like cardboard boxes and there will not be any EFA remains going out as waste out of the facility, not even water.
While he cannot go into details due to a confidentiality agreement, Crittendon said, “This particular facility will have the most technologically-advanced filter system on a crude oxide collection system that’s ever been applied.”
He continued on more about how there is not a better process to recycle EAF dust. Crittendon also spoke on the success of the plant in Dickson, Tenn., its record of not having an accident (except for someone who fell on rebarb during construction while pouring concrete) and no environmental infraction.
“We’re not these mean, old, big city businessmen that basically go out to the small, rural towns and try to rob them of their resources,” said Crittendon. “That is not what we are about.”
He then invited AJ Hansborough of Trinity Consulting to share more background about the air permit application process. He also spoke more about TCEQ regulations and rules and also addressed some questions from the audience about the testing runs that will be done.
Then a gentleman in the audience asked Hansborough, “You’re employed by these guys, right?”
He responded that yes, he was.
The gentleman, who requested not to be named, asked if the plant is supposed to run at a certain rate, what rate will it really run? He added in the past 10 years, the oilfield has brought fly-by-nighters and different levels of people. The first level guys that came in were pretty good, described the gentleman. The second level guys were worse. Now, they are on the third and fourth levels of guys.
“What our fear is, you may be the best guy in the world, I’m not going to debate that, but there’s nothing to keep this in check once you leave,” said the gentleman.
He added they don’t trust anyone, as they have been lied to before.
“I just wanted you to know that this is not an uneducated group of people. We’ve all been in this situation within the past 10 years,” said the gentleman. “Are you taking into account all of the oil field production and the plant that’s been in Three Rivers that pollutes us, too? Are these numbers regulated with that at all, or is this just what this plant is going to put out?”
Hansborough said the numbers he presented are just for the facility. However, part of the process involves a background monitor that incorporates emissions from other facilities and sources. In the case of Live Oak County, there are no existing monitors in the county. The monitors they have chosen to use as background monitors are located in Corpus Christi, explained Hansborough, which has significant industrialization.
“So, comparing the number of emissions that are around the site that we have chosen to use the background monitor for, far exceed the emissions that are occurring here,” said Hansborough.
The meeting grew more intense as it continued, with more questions raised from the audience. Another gentleman in the audience asked why they didn’t have the monitor in San Antonio, as it was far closer.
“Is it because maybe Corpus has all the refineries, so the numbers are going to be higher and it makes you look better?” asked the gentleman.
Hansborough said that is not how it works, with more discussion continuing.
Zinc Resources reps addressed a gentleman’s concerns about sulfuric acid and then the man said, “At the last meeting you brought up how if we didn’t want you here, you didn’t want to be here.”
Then he asked for a show of hands of who in the audience didn’t want the company here. A majority of them raised their hands.
Some other concerns brought up by the audience:
•The proximity to the fire department.
•What will be the loss in property values?
•The proposed plant site’s proximity to residents and a church.
•The release of contaminants such as lead and carbon monoxide.
•What will the water usage be?
•The additional impact on top of what the community already sees from the oil and gas industry.
Crittendon also answered questions about what the noise level of the plant will be. He said the loudest item they found on the equipment list will be approximately 105 dbs., which is typical of a motorcycle. By the time it gets close to the nearest structure 1,400 ft. away it should be down to a level of 58 dbs. The three loudest items the company is anticipating are the big fans, blowers and rail cars unloading.
More discussion continued about rail cars possibly blocking the nearby railroad tracks and how often the rail cars would be brought in. Crittendon said they will be bringing in six to seven rail cars a day and managing about 30 trucks per day.
There will not be on-site gas storage, said Crittendon and the plant will run 24 hours a day. There was also discussion back and forth and whether or not the proposed site is in a flood plain, with one audience member stating it was 8-10 ft. underwater in 1967 and is in the wetlands database.
Questions were also addressed on the timeline for the plant. The company is expecting to be in operation by November.
Crittendon said the plant will use 25-30 million gallons of water a year and will most likely drill a well. He also pointed out that you can buy water.
A woman asked about how at the previous meeting Crittendon said if the community didn’t want him here, he didn’t want to be here either. She asked how he felt about it.
“Not good,” answered Crittendon. “You don’t want to build a facility when you’re trying to hire employees who don’t want to work here and don’t want to have family member that works here.”
He said he didn’t think it was going to be quite as negative as it was that evening. Later in the meeting someone asked if there was another facility like the proposed one in the state of Texas, to which Crittendon responded that there is not. Whitsett was chosen because SDI suggested he talk to their potential “coke” supplier, who was looking at using the same facility for a “coke” transloading station.
The application is being done in an expedited manner and Zinc Resources paid TCEQ more for the process. More questions were raised from the audience, with Crittendon stating they had discussed cancelling the meeting earlier that afternoon, because of info they were getting about what was going on in the community, but didn’t think that was polite or right. He said they were trying to answer questions as best that they could.
“If you don’t agree with us, that’s okay, I understand. If you don’t want us here, I understand and that’s okay, too,” said Crittendon. “We’re not going to come here and force this facility on the neighborhood or the town. There is no benefit to anyone to do that.”
A gentleman in the audience said, “But it seems like that’s the case, because from everything that we said to you tonight, this is Whitsett. This is it. You’re looking at 150 people who live in this community and that’s where the problem comes from. I get it. You’ve got a living to make. You’ve got payments to take care of, but ours live right here.”
There is a prevailing wind and what will happen when dust, etc. sits on a nearby home? Will the plant clean it up? Crittendon said he understood his concerns, but that people are given licenses to operate cars and trains and one doesn’t assume the worst. Another gentleman in the audience said they needed to assume the worst, since they live there.
More discussion continued, with a gentleman asking towards the end of the meeting if the company was done, or was still planning to locate to the proposed site.
Crittendon replied, “That’s the one question we’re going to have to wait right now on.”
When told he wasn’t a man of his word, Crittendon said, “You can’t say that. I said, if you guys don’t want us, we don’t want to mess with you. We don’t want to be here.”
The gentleman in the audience said a majority of the community did not want the company here.
Another gentleman in the audience asked how many people in the room were actually from Whitsett, as he did not recognize half of the people in the room and has lived there his whole life. A woman sitting nearby said she didn’t either.
Another woman commented that many of the people were from Campbellton, since the wind will be blowing straight over Campbellton.
“That’s too bad,” responded the gentleman who asked for a show of hands. “Campbellton people will probably be the first in line to get a job, too.”
Another woman in the audience replied that five generations of her family have lived in the area.
“We don’t want what is going to destroy what we have worked so hard to get,” said the woman.
Someone asked again if the company would be locating to Whitsett. Crittendon said, “To say we’re not going to be pushing for the permit would be unfair on my part.”
He said he doubts they would, but he was not going to make that commitment without discussing it with the proper people first.
“You’re not proposing anything illegal, so I don’t know why you should pull out,” said a gentleman in the audience.
Crittendon told the audience to look up the facility in Dickson, Tenn. instead of looking up false information on the internet and newspaper. Hansborough urged people to look at the air permit application which is enforceable and states what they are building.
Texas State Senator Judith Zaffirini and State Rep. Ryan Guillen have contacted TCEQ to request that a public hearing be held.
Here is the link that citizens can go to and send in a comment or hearing request regarding the permit for the proposed Whitsett site: www.tceq.texas.gov/agency/decisions/cc/comments.html.
You will need to enter the permit number which is: 163540. Once the permit number is entered, the screen will show the information on the permit with a location of Whitsett, Texas. That will ensure you have entered the correct number. You should receive confirmation from TCEQ that your comments were received.