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Public meeting concerning asphalt plant set for July 28

Trucks remain at the former Construction Asphalt Paving Services (CAPS) plant, which is now owned by Summers-Taylor, in Unicoi. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Air Pollution Control (TDAPC) is scheduled to hold a public meeting on the Summers-Taylor asphalt permit applications on Tuesday, July 28, at 6 p.m. This meeting will be held via online video conference due to the pandemic, so public participation will be limited, compared to an in-person meeting.

Recently, Summers-Taylor purchased the land that was home to the Construction Asphalt Paving Services (CAPS) plant. This caused concerns from several Town of Unicoi citizens, which were expressed during the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on June 15.

According to Dr. Charlene Thomas, there are many questions that need to be answered during the upcoming meeting.

“Many of us are concerned that the plant will be operating outside their zoned area,” Thomas said. “The permit information is unclear as to the exact location of the new construction. Summers-Taylor wants to increase production thus creating more air pollution, more traffic, more noise, more light at night, and in general, more nuisance to the folks living in our area.”

Summers-Taylor President Grant Summers hopes the meeting can clear up any misconceptions.

“We had to put into two applications to build a plant,” Summers said. “We are hoping to put a ‘double barrel’ drum in at the location, and many have voiced concern that we are planning multiple plants at the location, but it’s just a name. The ‘double barrel’ is just the style of the plant.”

According to Summers, the plant will have newer equipment that is more efficient.

“We want to be a responsible neighbor,” Summers said. “This equipment will be more up to date and meet more updated regulations.”

For the concerned citizens, the format of the upcoming TDAPC meeting is another hurdle in the communications with Summers-Taylor.

“I am glad that we will have the public hearing, but I am disappointed that it will be a virtual meeting,” Thomas said. “I understand why that is the case, but this format will keep some from participating, and I believe it will be less effective. To be involved, folks will have to have access to the WebEx app, and not everyone will have that resource or know how to use it. For individuals without computer access, phone conferencing is available, but again, it is difficult to communicate in this manner. Questions can be sent in to the moderator in advance if a person cannot attend the meeting.”

According to Summers, the format is disappointing but it is required due to COVID-19.

“We would love to meet in person to answer questions, but unfortunately we have to take safety measures with COVID,” Summers said.

Thomas hopes the meeting will clarify many items for both parties.

“We would really like to have answers to the many questions that we have,” Thomas said. “There is confusion as to what exactly Summers-Taylor plans to do. We would also like more information about how the state oversees such facilities and what their requirements are. The Tennessee Division of Air Pollution Control says that air pollution will increase, but we don’t know how much or what Summers-Taylor will do about that increase. We want to know who will monitor this asphalt plant and their air pollution and if they are self-regulating; isn’t that a problem?”

According to Thomas, it is important for all citizens to tune into the July 28 TDAPC meeting.

“It is important for folks to attend this meeting so they will be able to understand what is going to happen in our backyard,” Thomas said. “If it is not what they want, then they need to be able to voice their opposition. Our town has clear zoning restrictions and even an ordinance that dictates asphalt plants, so we need to be sure that Summers-Taylor adheres to them.

“Supposedly this plant got grandfathered in, but we want to make sure that they do not extend beyond what they are permitted to do. I am thankful that the Tennessee Division of Air Pollution Control is holding this public meeting, and I know they are trying hard to work within the conditions of our COVID world. I encourage everyone who lives within the Town of Unicoi and even those on the Carter County line to be involved so that we can protect our beautiful area.”