According to an order issued by the Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality last week, a Brandon-based chemical plant will owe taxpayers $505,000 in fines for 11 violations of the state’s environmental laws.
Gold Coast Commodities has a facility in Brandon that transforms used cooking oil and soapstock — which is a byproduct which originates from the refining of soybean and other oils — into animal feed and biodiesel using sulfuric acid. The company’s wastewater disposal has been the subject of numerous enforcement actions by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and several lawsuits.
According to the order, the company will be prohibited from sending its wastewater to Pelahatchie until it receives DEQ approval. The company will have to a hire a professional wastewater lagoon manager and submit a plan regarding proper disposal of its wastewater, with both subject to DEQ approval. The company must have four aerators in the lagoon operating continuously. If one becomes inoperable, the company will have to inform DEQ officials within 24 hours.
Gold Coast will be prohibited from generating wastewater, including production water and washdown water at its Brandon facility until it submits its plan to DEQ.
According to the order, the company will have to pay the penalties in quarterly installments of more than $84,000 starting on April 30.
Gold Coast Commodities still has an evidentiary hearing scheduled for April 13 in front of the Permit Board over its wastewater permit, which the board revoked in November. The company appealed the decision and will make its case on April 13. Since Gold Coast’s permit is the subject of an appeal, it remains in effect.
The two sides have been in talks since November, when the commission issued a verbal order and held an evidentiary hearing to consider numerous violations by Brandon-based Gold Coast Commodities over the disposal of their wastewater in Pelahatchie.
Numerous violations catalogued by DEQ inspectors at the Pelahatchie site, where Gold Coast was disposing of its wastewater, led to a pair of orders from the commission in September and October. The DEQ investigated after it began receiving odor complaints from nearby landowners starting in May.
A release of poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas from the lagoons sent some Pelahatchie first responders to the hospital and inspectors found that the company had dumped wastewater on the site without the required aerators being in operation.
The orders forced the company to stop dumping its wastewater in Pelahatchie and ultimately led the commission to order the company to drain the lagoon, an order that will be rescinded as part of the latest order.
The wastewater generated by the process used by Gold Coast for manufacturing animal feed and biodiesel makes it highly corrosive and the temperature required to keep the wastewater from congealing into a pipe-clogging, malodorous sludge makes it even more so.
The city of Brandon filed a lawsuit in 2018 over damage to its sewer pipe infrastructure and Jackson might be filing one of its own after the City Council voted earlier this month to hire two law firms to pursue the matter.
When DEQ stopped Gold Coast from dumping its wastewater into the Brandon sewer system in 2016, the company switched to an outside firm, Rebel High Velocity Sewer Services, that trucked the wastewater to Jackson, where it was dumped into the city’s system before another DEQ order in 2017 put an end to that procedure.
Andrew Walker is the owner of Rebel High Velocity Sewer Services and was indicted by the federal government on August 20 on charges of violating the Clean Water Act by dumping 3 million gallons of untreated Gold Coast wastewater into Jackson’s sewer system. He pled guilty to the charges in January and could face eight years of prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
After the DEQ order, Gold Coast reached a contract with the city of Pelahatchie to build a lagoon system, which was supposed to be equipped with aerators and then the treated wastewater applied to land nearby via irrigation. The aerators are designed to provide oxygen for aerobic bacteria that help remove the pollutants from the wastewater to allow it to be safely applied via irrigation.