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Greenville Residents Fearful Of Proposed Fertilizer Mixing Plant

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GREENVILLE (CBS 11 NEWS) - A proposed fertilizer mixing plant near downtown Greenville has city leaders asking questions—and many residents voicing concerns.

“It’s about three blocks SE of here,” says Alan Armstrong.  Armstrong owns Muzzy’s Alley, a downtown Greenville antique shop.  He says memories of the West explosion are still too fresh to have such a facility so near.  “Maybe they need to put it in neutral for a little while until they find out what regulations [they] really need.”

But, no amount of oversight would satisfy some residents.

“Not in any way, shape, form or fashion, not in the middle of town,” insists Arthur Bjork.  “I don’t care what kind of safety measures are put in place, you don’t do something like that when you know that it’s hazardous.”

Mears Fertilizer, based in El Dorado, Kansas, has submitted an application for an air quality permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Greenville city officials, after learning of the application, have requested a public meeting.  If approved, the meeting would include the plant operators as well as the TCEQ.

“We look at it as a ‘fact finding’ mission,” says Greenville city attorney Daniel Ray.  “Right now, we don’t have all the answers about how dangerous it is and what the chances are of a catastrophic failure in one of the tanks—specifically the anhydrous ammonia tank.”

Ray says city leaders do not want to create hysteria surrounding the proposed mixing plant—but, point to several deadly incidents that he says justifies the level of concern.

In 1976, a tanker truck carrying more than 7,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia overturned in Houston.  The cloud of poisonous gas created killed seven people and injured many more.

“We’d like to know how much they’re bringing in at one time, what form the containers will take, and what safety measures are in place to keep a catastrophic failure from happening,” says Ray.  “Our understanding is the end product is safe—it’s very stable, and isn’t dangerous to store or use.  It’s the initial products that are used to create the end product that are potentially dangerous.”

Ray also expressed concern about how nearby areas—including a neighborhood and the county jail could be safety evacuated in the event of a major accident.

“That’s the thing, accidents happen,” says Ray.  “We have an obligation to make sure our people are safe from industrial accidents.”

Ray says he filed the request for a public meeting on behalf of the city council to get answers “from the people who have them.”  He says the city would not oppose the permit if they could be “100% sure it was safe.”

However, in spite of local sentiment, the final decision on the permit application rests with the TCEQ.

A spokesperson for Mears Fertilizer today declined to respond to questions regarding the application, telling CBS that the company will reserve comment for the city council.

“As long as it was regulated, and they had specific rules that they had to go by… I think it would be ok,” said Sally Council, who works in downtown Greenville.  Still, Council lost enthusiasm for the proposed mixing plant when she learned the out of state operators did not plan to bring any new jobs to area.

“I would disagree with that part.  I feel like if it’s going to be in this community, it needs to benefit this community—or what’s the point?”

City leaders expect to receive a response to the public meeting request within the next two weeks.

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