The Mississippi Permit Board responded with a blistering brief Thursday in the lawsuit filed by Brandon-based chemical manufacturer Gold Coast, which is seeking the restoration of its wastewater permit.
The board said that Gold Coast has blamed everyone except for itself for the abysmal circumstances that caused the permit revocation by the Permit Board on November 10, 2020, action that was later supported by an evidentiary hearing in April.
In testimony before the Permit Board that was mentioned in the brief, Gold Coast’s Tommy Douglas said it was a “business decision” to use the unaerated lagoon rather than storing the wastewater at the Brandon facility.
The brief also says Gold Coast’s “business decision” to begin dumping wastewater in the Pelahatchie lagoon eight months before the installation of aerators and flow control equipment led to the permit revocation. Documents subpoenaed by the MDEQ showed it took the company five months to order the aerators, during which time it continued to dump its wastewater in Pelahatchie.
Gold Coast dumped more than 2 million gallons of wastewater during that time, which the Permit Board says led to the buildup of dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas in lagoon that led to one person passing out and three going to the hospital when the aerators were finally turned on for the first time.
The electrical contractors overcome by the fumes have filed a lawsuit against Gold Coast.
The brief also says the “business decision” also led oppressive odors from the lagoon and plague-like levels of flies, along with a 418,000-gallon spill into nearby Dry Creek that necessitated a water contract advisory by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
The brief is in response to the one filed by Gold Coast on September 21 that accused the Permit Board of being prejudiced against the company, violating the state’s Open Meetings law and that its permit revocation was illegitimate since the board didn’t advise Gold Coast on why it did so.
The Permit Board said in its brief that while the state Ethics Commission ruled in favor of Gold Coast with its Open Meetings law complaint, the violation was not willful or knowing and the board took no action during email communication. Also, the board took action in an open evidentiary hearing on April 13 with 11 sworn witnesses and legal arguments from both parties.
The separate Mississippi Board of Environmental Quality held a hearing on November 19 that would allow Gold Coast to resume its operations upon satisfaction of certain conditions and fined the company $505,000 for 11 violations of the state’s environmental law.
Gold Coast had originally disposed of its wastewater in the sewer systems of both Brandon and Jackson before the MDEQ ordered it to cease dumping in 2016 (Brandon) and 2017 (Jackson).
Gold Coast uses a proprietary process to transform 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 wastewater from this process is extremely acidic and must be kept at a high temperature to prevent it from congealing into a pipe-clogging, malodorous sludge.
The city of Brandon filed its lawsuit in July 2019 after a 2016 investigation found that Gold Coast was discharging its wastewater into the city's sewers and the city alleges that dumping caused damage to the sewer infrastructure. The city of Jackson filed a similar lawsuit in June, alleging damage to its sewer system from the discharge.