Search turns up DEC permit request town hadn’t seen
GHENT–Documents obtained by Patti Matheney of the citizens group GhentCANN indicate that TCI of NY had plans for the company’s West Ghent site than town officials weren’t aware of. But the company announced this week that it has withdrawn its application to the state for what appeared to be handling more PCBs and will instead seek local permits to resume the same operations it conducted before its facility was destroyed by fire earlier this year.
The company’s building and storage facilities burned and parts of it exploded early in August, creating a huge plume of smoke that led to air quality alerts in two states. Through the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Ms. Matheney obtained a copy of a permit application by TCI to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The 440-page application, submitted by TCI in June, requested approval for the company to become a “Commercial PCB Storer,” she said. In a written presentation Ms. Matheney gave members of the Ghent Planning Board, she said the DEC application includes a request by TCI to “begin the storage of PCB items,” among them up to 280,000 pounds of untested, undrained electrical equipment which are assumed to have under 499 parts per million (ppm) of PCBs–until tested; the company had also sought to store other large quantities of PCBs.
PCBs are hazardous industrial chemicals that are no longer manufactured. They were widely used in electrical transformers. TCI dismantles those transformers, disposing of the chemicals and recycling other materials.
Ms. Matheney says she requested all documents she could obtain under the law from the town regarding TCI, and has received nothing indicating that TCI had notified the town of the plans listed in its application to the DEC. And at the November Town Board meeting, board members indicated they were unaware of the DEC application before Ms. Matheney brought it to their attention.
In a statement dated November 19, TCI of New York owner and Vice President of Operations Brian Hemlock wrote that “the permit requests we have filed seek to renew existing permits or to exchange an existing federal permit for a state permit, per state requirements.”
But Ms. Matheney said in a telephone interview that the DEC application seemed to her more than a renewal, characterizing it as a change in business operations. She says the document shows that TCI requested to move from being a non-regulated PCB storer (<50ppm) to a regulated PCB storer (>50ppm).
Hours before the fire began on August 1 representatives from TCI came before the Ghent Planning Board to request permission to expand office space so that office staff could be moved out of the plant. According to the documents provided to the Planning Board by Ms. Matheney, meeting minutes of that night’s meeting show that a TCI rep expressed “nothing new will be going on at the plant.”
A representative of TCI responded by email this week questions from The Columbia Paper about the company’s plans, saying that TCI has withdrawn the DEC application. Included in that response were copies of two letters dated December 12, addressed to DEC Assistant Permit Administrator Michael Higgins and Ghent Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Walters. The letters, signed by Mr. Hemlock, stated that TCI withdraws its application to the DEC “to drain equipment containing regulated concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBS, at our Falls Industrial Park Road property.” The letter stated that TCI’s focus will be on securing local permits to return to normal operations.
The letter addressed to Mr. Walters states that the company does not believe the requests in the DEC permit application were changes in business operations, saying that “environmental permits and the regulations governing them are highly technical and invite misinterpretation.” Mr. Hemlock wrote in the letter that TCI withdrew the DEC permit request because the company would rather go through the application process to rebuild without the “questions regarding the separate and unrelated issue” of the pending DEC application.
The document distributed by Ms. Matheney to the Planning Board also lists a timeline of events regarding TCI’s involvement in Ghent. Included are items from the late 1980s that suggested there may have been a “different understanding” between TCI and the town regarding PCB storage, and an item regarding TCI’s failed quest for approval to use an incinerator an 1990.
In his November statement, Mr. Hemlock stated that since ownership and management changed in 2006, the current ownership of TCI has “nothing to do with the plans, permits, and operations undertaken by the prior owners.”
Ms. Matheney believes TCI would need new permits from the town for its operations since. She said during a telephone interview that through a FOIL request she sought documents from the town related to TCI’s permits but received a letter from the town that stated that there is nothing in the files regarding TCI permit applications.
Ms. Matheney’s report to the Board concluded with Town Zoning Codes she believes were violated by TCI.
Reports after the Fall Road blaze revealed materials at the TCI site with high levels of PCB concentrations, including three transformers with PCB levels between 930 and 1600 ppm. An inventory report to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also indicated there was sodium being stored on site by TCI’s partner company, Power Substations (PSS). Ghent residents have been actively urging the Town Board to take action against TCI for possible violations.
Town Attorney Ted Guterman recommended back in October that the board not cite TCI, saying that there was not enough information to determine whether any codes were violated because it is unclear what the original permit allowed TCI to do.
TCI’s website states that the company may hold equipment with PCB concentrations greater than 50ppm up to 10 days. The website says that only equipment with PCB concentrations lower than 50 ppm is actually processed at the site. Other items are transferred elsewhere for processing.
Ghent Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Walters said in a telephone interview that TCI has submitted an application to the town earlier this month to rebuild. He says the Planning Board will review the materials and plans to discuss the matter with company representatives at the board’s January 2 meeting. This will not be a public hearing, though he expects the Planning Board members will have many questions. According to Mr. Walters, a representative from the DEC may be present.
Mr. Walters says that once the Planning Board is satisfied with the materials from TCI the board will schedule a public hearing. He said he is unsure how long that will take.
Search turns up DEC permit request town hadn’t seen