Neighborhood rep calls MDEQ workshop a triumph

klnelson@sunherald.com Twitter: NelsonNews_atSHJuly 7, 2014 

PASCAGOULA -- People in the neighborhood closest to heavily industrialized Bayou Casotte will get a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality air permitting workshop at the end of the month.

It's to help them "fully participate" in the process their industrial neighbors must complete in order to get the Clean Air Act permits they need to operate.

The free workshop is scheduled for all day July 31 beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m. at the Pascagoula Senior Citizen's Center, 1912 Live Oak Ave.

"It is a triumph. That's how I'd put it," said The Steps Coalition's Howard Page, who has been working with residents in the residential area of about 150 homes closest to the industry along the bayou, where people have complained about sticky dust, acrid smells and concerns about chemicals in the soil.

The MDEQ shut down Mississippi Phosphates last year for a period of time over complaints that it was emitting a sulfuric acid mist. In that case, industrial neighbors along the bayou had their workers shelter in place or evacuate, but the neighborhood was not warned. Since then, Mississippi Phosphates has offered an air monitor to the neighborhood.

Several of the industries in the area -- VT Halter Marine, Signal shipbuilding, the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, Mississippi Phosphates and Dupont's First Chemical -- have met on conference calls with the MDEQ, the city and the county and met with residents to address the issues. But the workshop is designed to educate the public to the regulatory process. For some of these industries, the five-year air quality permits are coming due this year.

The idea is to get the public more involved and to have a voice in the process, MDEQ's Robbie Wilbur has told the Sun Herald.

The workshop is a collaborative effort with local officials, the public and industry, he said in a press release Monday.

It will help the citizens "participate fully and meaningfully," he said.

The day's sessions will include information on the Clean Air Act, Title V permitting, the role of permitting and compliance, informational resources for citizens and public involvement in the permitting process.

"We look forward to the opportunity to participate," said Page, who helped organize Concerned Citizens of Cherokee that represents the neighborhood in east Pascagoula. "It's what we're working for."

He said, "The MDEQ is doing a good job. So is the city. And at every meeting we've attended, industry is supporting this too."

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