Zinc smelting plant proposed for Whitsett



Whitsett residents and ranchers are concerned that if the zinc smelting plant is built, the rail cars in and out will block the railroad tracks and hurt emergency response times. LISA LUNA | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Whitsett residents and ranchers are concerned that if the zinc smelting plant is built, the rail cars in and out will block the railroad tracks and hurt emergency response times. LISA LUNA | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

It is a familiar scene to this part of South Texas, especially in recent years– businessmen from the big city travel to rural America seeking natural resources to expand their company. It is a tug-of-war for land, air and water, often with dire notice given to the residents who will be affected the most.

On Feb. 2, the Whitsett Community Improvement Association met with representatives of Zinc Resources LLC, which has applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for an air quality permit. The construction of an electric arc furnace (EAF) Dust Recycling Plant, also known as a zinc smelting plant, is proposed at 657 FM Road 99 in Whitsett in Live Oak County. The area sits adjacent to Whitsett Baptist Church and is near a residential neighborhood. The proposed site is also less than a 5-minute drive from the Atascosa County line.

According to a public notice published in the Live Oak County newspaper, The Progress, on Dec. 21, the application was submitted to TCEQ on Dec. 14, 2020, and is being processed in an expedited manner. The facility will emit the following contaminants: carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, nitrogen oxide, organic compounds, particulate matter including particulate matter with diameters of 10 microns or less and 2.5 microns or less, lead and sulfur dioxide.

The proposed site of the EAF Dust Recycling Plant sits next-door to a residential neighborhood in Whitsett. The air quality permit application sign can be seen in the right hand corner. LISA LUNA | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

The proposed site of the EAF Dust Recycling Plant sits next-door to a residential neighborhood in Whitsett. The air quality permit application sign can be seen in the right hand corner. LISA LUNA | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Debora Hubka, a postal carrier in Whitsett since 1993, said the site will be in her backyard.

“I’m concerned with the pollution and it is supposed to be noisy. They said equivalent to a jet engine, running 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Hubka. “We’ve lived here since 1992 in the same area, within a couple blocks. It’s going to be right behind my house.”

Hubka’s parents live next door and her mother recently recovered from COVID-19.

“Her lungs are damaged so we don’t know what that’s going to do for that situation. We have babies that are growing up there. What is it going to do to them long-term, my kids and grandkids?” said Hubka.

From the proposed site of the zinc smelting plant, one can see the adjacent Whitsett Baptist Church.

From the proposed site of the zinc smelting plant, one can see the adjacent Whitsett Baptist Church.

Another community meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Whitsett Community Center, located at 715 N. Hwy. 281A. Residents were informed that the company would try to have engineers present at the meeting to answer questions.

Residents have expressed that the more they look and research, the more they find. They believe that they aren’t being told the entire truth.

At the Feb. 2 community meeting, residents heard Zinc Resources LLC representatives discuss lead levels in the employees’ blood. One resident described the lengthy wording and terminology of the permit as, “A whole other world for us to try and combat.”

The residents learned that a facility in Sinton will be sending their “waste products,” called EAF dust which is a by-product from steel mills. The material would be sent to Whitsett in rail cars and a material known as “coke” would be brought in to recycle that waste product and extract and recover the zinc.

Above is the proposed site of an EAF Dust Recycling Plant, also known as a zinc smelting plant in Whitsett. The notice of receipt of the application and intent to obtain an air permit states that the facility will emit contaminants such as carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, nitrogen oxide, organic compounds, lead and sulfur dioxide.

Above is the proposed site of an EAF Dust Recycling Plant, also known as a zinc smelting plant in Whitsett. The notice of receipt of the application and intent to obtain an air permit states that the facility will emit contaminants such as carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, nitrogen oxide, organic compounds, lead and sulfur dioxide.

Some of the additional concerns raised by residents include: some type of chemical spill anywhere on the route, the 100-ft. smoke stacks and what will be discharged into the air, destruction of their property values, water consumption, dangers to their health, the close proximity to big farms and ranches and the loss of the quiet life they enjoy. Another concern is that the rail cars will shut down traffic on the railroad tracks and hurt emergency response times. Other residents expressed worries about how often the facility will actually be regulated and inspected.

They urge the public to get involved and help, as the clock is ticking for the permit to be approved. As one resident noted, once the permit is granted construction is scheduled to start at the location on March 1. Production is slated to start July 1.

Zaffirini and Guillen on board for answers

“It’s important that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) engage with residents of Atascosa, Live Oak and McMullen counties who would be affected by Zinc Resources, LLC’s proposed Electric Arc Furnace Dust Recycling Plant. Families deserve the opportunity to gather information and to share their concerns about the project,” said Texas Senator Judith Zaffirini.

A sign is posted on the gate at the proposed site of an electric arc furnace (EAF) Dust Recycling Plant, at 657 FM Road 99 in Whitsett. The location is in Live Oak County, near the Atascosa County line.

A sign is posted on the gate at the proposed site of an electric arc furnace (EAF) Dust Recycling Plant, at 657 FM Road 99 in Whitsett. The location is in Live Oak County, near the Atascosa County line.

“Accordingly, Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) and I have asked TCEQ to hold a public meeting regarding this permit application. Involving community members helps ensure not only that the application process is transparent and open, but also that our constituents’ concerns are addressed properly,” Zaffirini added.

State Representative Ryan Guillen said, “Anytime a project like this is planned, it is vital that local residents are informed, have input and are part of the process. I’m committed to make sure that happens.”

Public can comment to TCEQ online

Here is the link that citizens can go to and send in a comment or hearing request regarding this permit: www.tceq.texas.gov/agency/decisions/ cc/comments.html.

A button reading “Comment online about pending permit applications” should appear next. Click on that button and you will be taken to a screen asking for 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.

Residents feel that if people can flood TCEQ directly with online comments, it will be the most efficient way to be heard. Each comment is a permanent record of those that have contacted TCEQ.

Alternate ways to comment

If you are unable to comment online and wish to mail a letter, the address is:

Office of the Chief Clerk, MC 105

TCEQ

PO Box 13087

Austin, TX 78711-3087

Letters can also be faxed to: 512-239-3311. However, please note that all comments submitted by FAX must be followed by a hard copy in the mail within three days.

Courier or hand-delivered letters can be sent to:

Office of the Chief Clerk

TCEQ

12100 Park 35 Circle, Bldg F

Austin, TX 78753

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