EPA stops Biomass shipments

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 13, 2003


The United States Department of Agriculture has agreed to temporarily halt shipments of tobacco to South Point because of the ongoing controversy about Biomass Energy's plans to burn the crop.

Biomass Energy, located adjacent to the Point industrial park, is under contract with the United States Department of Agriculture to destroy 121,408 tons of surplus tobacco for $19.25 a ton, totaling more than a $2 million deal.

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"We are working with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to resolve this issue," said Steve Freeman, tobacco specialist for the USDA who issued the contract to Biomass. "We have agreed to stop shipments until the issue is resolved."

Some shipments may continue to arrive Thursday because they were already loaded and on the road before they decided to stop, Freeman said.

"We did not expect these types of problems," he said. "Normally, the USDA does not have to dispose of tobacco, and we were not aware it is considered a solid waste material. We were just trying to dispose of it in an economical fashion."

The Ohio EPA has not issued a stop-order, but did advise Biomass on Monday to stop the shipments, said Steve Rine, environmental supervisor for the Division of

Solid and Infectious Waste Management for the Ohio EPA.

"This material is a solid waste so they need permits to transfer the materials," Rine said. "The reality is that Biomass has no permits to burn or manage this material, so it has no business receiving it when (Biomass) has no authorization, permits or equipment to properly manage it."

At Biomass' request, a meeting with the EPA has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday in Columbus, Rine said.

Mark Harris, a spokesman for Biomass, said the company is fully cooperating and plans to meet with the EPA to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and will discuss exactly what permits are needed.

"This tobacco is not a hazardous material," he said. "Do tobacco farmers need a permit to handle their product?"

Biomass currently has a permit to burn wood and wood waste but will have to get a modification to burn the tobacco, Cindy Charles, permit supervisor for the Portsmouth Local Air Agency, said last week.

A related problem that has come from the controversy is that Biomass security personnel are stopping people at the entrance to The Point, said Pat Clonch, executive director for the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

"I do not want anyone to think the LEDC is stopping people from entering property that was purchased with public funds," she said. "These people are acting without authority. They have no right to police that gate."

Harris said the have a right to secure their property and are only making sure people have a reason to be on the property.