I was shocked and dismayed several weeks ago to learn that the Coosa County graphite mining venture I’d been hearing about was going to build their processing plant in Kellyton, just west of Alexander City and pump their industrial wastewater to Alexander City and discharge into our treasured lake. After being alerted to this by none other than Eagle Eye Campbell (not Matt, but his eagle-eye wife Ann), we’ve been taking a crash course on graphite mining and processing. That’s difficult since there are currently ZERO graphite processing plants in the US. Most of the world’s graphite comes from China. As you may have heard, China is not known for its environmental stewardship. We gathered and read all the graphite mining articles we could google, contacted professors at AU, and poured through ADEM and EPA regs (which had nothing on graphite mining since up until now, it hasn’t existed in the US). We contacted Alexander City and set up a meeting to discuss our concerns. Mayor Baird and Gerard Brewer, the city engineer, set up a meeting with the mining company, Alabama Graphite Products, and Jacobs Engineering. We met earlier today at the Alexander City Municipal Complex. Our Legal Committee, Matt Campbell, Bill Butler, Dick Bronson, Jesse Cunningham, and I, submitted a list of questions that addressed our concerns. We were accompanied by the Lake Martin HOBO president, Harry DeNegre. We were particularly concerned about this mining waste negatively impacting the lake.
Representatives from Alabama Graphite Products presented detailed information on the processing of the graphite ore (their method is a new environmentally friendly method which they are in the process of patenting) and treatment of wastewater. To our relief, they will have a wastewater pretreatment plant onsite. The pretreatment will recycle processing chemicals, neutralize the wastewater, and filter it before it is pumped to the Alexander City Sugar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The graphite wastewater treatment plant requires a State Indirect Discharge (SID) permit from ADEM before it is allowed to operate. This was good news too, since the SID permit requires that all contaminants in the wastewater must be within safe limits. Thus, the wastewater that will be pumped to the Sugar Creek treatment plant will be acceptable assuming the permit requirements are met, and the wastewater will not adversely impact the lake. The permit must be renewed every 5 years, or when changes are made to the processing facility. Good news!
We also learned about the transport pipe system, which is being designed by Jacobs Engineering, formerly CH2M Hill. They have been providing engineering services to the city since 1975. They informed us that there is no inter-basin transfer of water, since although the Kellyton graphite plant is in the eastern-most part of the Coosa Basin, the processing water comes from Alexander City and the wastewater returns to the city, which is in the Tallapoosa Basin. They also informed us that the volume of wastewater from the graphite plant will be relatively small, about 0.17 million gallons per day (mgd), whereas the Sugar Creek plant has several mgd’s of its 8.5 mgd capacity unused.
We left, grateful to Mayor Baird and the city for the opportunity to voice our concerns and get answers. And grateful that the answers we got were what we wanted to hear! We will continue to monitor this new development and thoroughly examine the SID permit when it is issued to verify that no bad pollutants will come into Lake Martin. We’ll keep you posted.