Sick of the stink: GenEarth wears out welcome for neighbors

  • Monday, May 19, 2014

Lindsay Street/Independent GenEarth in Berkeley County has come under fire for its odor.

A green energy plant south of Moncks Corner has come under fire again by nearby residents for what they describe as an odor worse than sewage waste that has made living next to the plant unbearable.

In a heated presentation May 11, a crowd gathered for Berkeley County Council’s Water and Sanitation committee meeting guffawed and shouted down a representative from GenEarth BioEnergy.

“I almost passed out the other morning,” one shouted.

“You don’t live here,” another shouted.

Residents at the meeting were further angered by the plant’s claim to have already reduced its odiferous presence.

GenEarth leases property at the Oakley Road landfill, between Highway 17-A and Highway 52. The Sumter-based company opened the location in early 2013 — and residents say the horrible smells have been unceasing ever since.

Berkeley County resident Dan Barb addressed the committee about the issue and was accompanied by about two dozen residents.

“A year and a half has been long enough. And now summer time’s come and the winds die down, and that just makes it even worse,” Barb said.

Residents, like 28-year-old Jenny Mullinax, complained that the smell is so bad that children are unable to play outside.

Mullinax has lived next to the landfill her whole life, and now has an 8-year-old daughter. She told The Independent that no entity notified her of GenEarth moving to the site, and no one warned her of the odor that now dictates her life.

“How we found out was we drove down the road one day and saw the GenEarth sign,” Mullinax said.

Mullinax brought her daughter Christina to the meeting. Christina was dressed for softball, and Mullinax said she likes to keep her active. But on days when the smells drift toward her home, she said Christina can’t play outside.

Thompson Construction Group of Sumter owns the majority of GenEarth, and the company’s vice president represented GenEarth during the committee meeting.

John Halbig said GenEarth has spent $150,000 so far in odor control and plans on spending another $350,000.

He said with additional odor controls, there should be a “considerable” odor reduction in the next 10 weeks. Committee Chair Cathy Davis asked Halbig to give a progress report to the committee in four weeks.

“We understand we have a problem and we are working very hard to deal with it. We are disappointed our odor is causing so many problems,” Halbig said.

Berkeley County is one of a handful of public entities in the Charleston area to pay the company to take sludge waste. GenEarth converts organic waste into amino and organic acids, then bio-gases such as methane.

The gas is converted into about 1.6 megawatts of electricity, which is fed back into the power grid in partnership with Santee Cooper.

According to the company, a high-heat process that allows the waste to also become usable on cropland, and the process in which the product is applied on the fields are to blame for the stink.

At the committee meeting, one of the farmers using the by-product addressed the angry residents.

“I’m the farmer that’s putting it out,” Rick Dennis said. “I’m very concerned with (the odor) myself.”

But Dennis asked residents to be patient, and that he wants to continue using the product. Halbig’s presentation included pictures of crops benefiting from the waste product.

S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is involved in the issue. Dennis said they were at his farm for two hours less than a week ago. Halbig also said his company has been working with DHEC on the issue.

Berkeley County government cannot shut down GenEarth, according to Supervisor Dan Davis. DHEC would have to close the plant.

DHEC released this statement to The Independent on the issue:

“We are working through a process currently with the permittee related to odor at the facility and at land application sites. We have received no additional complaints in the last few weeks.”

Several of the county council members were unsatisfied with Halbig’s presentation. Councilman Tim Callanan called his presentation “a bit antagonizing” and said Halbig “lifted (his) voice” to residents’ complaints.

“You, whether intentional or not, have made their life worse,” Callanan said to Halbig. “I don’t see a happy ending here unless, somehow, you can eliminate this odor.”

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