Attorneys for both Gold Coast Commodities and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality have agreed to come to a settlement after the Mississippi Commission of Environmental Quality met Thursday.
The next step is an evidentiary hearing scheduled for April 13 that will discuss the pulling of Gold Coast’s permits to ship its wastewater, aerate it and spray it on land in Pelahatchie. The aerators churn the wastewater and provide oxygen for aerobic bacteria that remove the pollutants from the wastewater to allow it to be safely applied via irrigation on property owned by the company.
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.
The commission’s actions in November came after the state Permit Board revoked Gold Coast’s wastewater discharge permits after an investigation into odor complaints.
“I do feel like the commissioners have been very reasonable with respect to a situation that was horrendous for that neighborhood,” Fourth District Commissioner Jamie Martin said.
Gold Coast attorney Andy Taggart told the commission that he got the indication from DEQ staff that their actions were focused on shutting down the company’s operations in Brandon.
Commission chairman John Dane told Taggart that the commission allowing Gold Coast to pay its fines quarterly showed that it wasn’t interesting in shutting down the facility.
The key points that will be discussed is how many aerators the company needs to maintain in operation at the Pelahatchie lagoons and what months they’ll be allowed to spray the treated wastewater on land. Taggart told the company he thinks they need to run five aerators continuously and the months for spraying are supposed to be drier ones to ensure that the treated wastewater isn’t discharged in large amounts into local waterways.
Gold Coast 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 at its facility in Brandon. The wastewater from this process is required to be mixed with caustic material and must be kept hot to prevent it from congealing into a pipe-clogging sludge.
The wastewater generated by the processes used by Gold Coast make it highly corrosive, which can damage sewage pipes. In addition, high temperature required to keep the wastewater in a liquid state makes it even more so.
The DEQ put the chemical plant under scrutiny after odor complaints from nearby landowners last year forced the agency to send inspectors. A release of poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas from the lagoons sent some Pelahatchie first responders to the hospital. DEQ inspectors found that the company had dumped wastewater on the site without the required aerators being in operation.
Numerous violations catalogued by DEQ inspectors at the Pelahatchie site led to a pair of orders from the commission in September and October that forced the company to stop dumping its wastewater in Pelahatchie and ultimately led the commission to order the company to drain the lagoon
Initially, Gold Coast discharged this effluent directly into Brandon’s sewer system, which ultimately terminates in the Jackson system. A DEQ order ended the discharge in 2016 and the city filed a lawsuit in 2018 to compel the company to pay for damage to the city’s sewer system.
After DEQ stopped Rebel High Velocity Sewer Services from discharging Gold Coast wastewater into the city of Jackson’s system via an order issued in 2017, the company needed a new place to dispose of its wastewater.
The owner of that company, Andrew Walker, pled guilty in January to federal charges of dumping more than 3 million gallons of this untreated wastewater into Jackson’s sewer system. His company was paid by Gold Coast from November 2016 to October 2017 to dispose of its wastewater illegally into the Jackson sewer system.
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.