updated 7:02 PM UTC, Feb 20, 2020

Citizens hosting meeting concerning plant

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By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – A group of Woodville residents is hosting a public meeting on Thursday to ask “Is Woodville Pellets smoking you out?”. Some are claiming the wood biomass pellet plant, located south of the city, has been emitting illegal smoke, dust and other air pollution.

The organizers of the meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Wheat Elementary School in Woodville, will address these concerns, and representatives from Woodville Pellets will be on hand to answer questions.

The facility, which formerly operated under the name German Pellets, was acquired in 2019 by European-based biomass firm Graanul Invest. It produces 450,000 metric tons of pellets per year. The firm also purchased the Port Arthur pellets plant, which was also previously under German ownership. That facility is now used as a storage and shipping point.

In the past, under its previous ownership, the plant was found, through an internal audit, to have exceeded state pollution limits by emitting 580 tons of ozone-producing gases, while it was only permitted to release 64 tons. In 2019, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) required the facility to implement pollution controls.

Some of the citizens involved with the meeting Thursday claim that emissions are causing sinus and breathing problems. One Woodville resident, Dustin Stafford, who lives near the facility said he is “all for our community having jobs and industry, but not for our air being polluted.”

According to Sarah Stephens, who works as an environmental officer for the facility, there are no chemical emissions or any illegal smoke from the plant’s exhaust. Stephens said the emissions are clean, as the plant’s process to create the wood pellets (which are exported and used for fuel and heating) does not involve any chemicals.

Stephens added that the public is welcome to come and tour the facility, and she welcomes questions via telephone, as well.

“What comes out of the main stack, which we run on a daily basis…is not anything unusual, just standard wood chips. There’s nothing treated,” said Aaron Mitcham, who works as IT manager for the plant. “It’s cleaner than the bonfire they do every year at the city park,” he added.

According to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project, released in 2018 and taken from findings compiled in 2017, a third of the wood pellet plants violated their permit limits by releasing illegal amounts of pollution, while another four plants had faulty permits issued by state governments that failed to require pollution control equipment required by the federal Clean Air Act. Overall, more than half of the plants either failed to keep emissions below legal limits or failed to install the required pollution controls.

A Texas Pellets representative said that since the plant re-opened last year, TCEQ has not found any violations, nor has it been fined. The Woodville plant is the largest facility that Graanul owns and produces around 1,200 tons of product each day.

According to the group Concerned Citizens of Tyler County, an environmental advocacy group hosting Thursday’s event, attorneys specializing in environmental-related litigation will be on hand at the meeting. A Facebook post related to the meeting states that the attorneys will present “information regarding compliance that the plant is not adhering to.”

The Booster was able to tour Texas Pellets recently. A detailed look at how the plant functions is coming in an upcoming edition.

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