PHENIX CITY, Ala. (WRBL) — A Phenix City carbon black manufacturing plant will be closing at the end of the month, according to a document obtained exclusively by WRBL.
After years of not making mandated upgrades to the plant and being hit with a multi-million dollar jury verdict, Continental Carbon Company will shut down on Dec. 31.
In a letter dated Dec. 8 and sent to plant manager Greg Johnston, Continental Carbon was put on notice by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that it had to cease operations by Dec. 31.
The company manufactures carbon black, a substance used to strengthen the rubber in car tires. It’s also used in plastics, ink, and coating applications. The facility employs about 120 people and is located on State Docks Road in Phenix City.
The company currently operates under a permit from ADEM. And the company was under a federal Consent Decree to make mandatory improvements to the plant.
“Per the requirements of the Consent Decree (5: 15-cv-0090-F) filed on March 23, 2015 and amended on December 22, 2017, CCC is required to install and operate multiple air pollution control systems on or before December 31, 2022 at the plant,” the letter from Ronald W. Gore, Chief of the ADEM Air Division read. “Per previous correspondence between CCC, the Department, and the EPA, CCC indicated that it had not begun to install the required control systems and would not do so by the deadline. Therefore, the Department concludes that CCC must shut down the Phenix City Plant on or before December 31 , 2022.”
According to this letter Continental Carbon has telegraphed a shutdown for months despite 11th-hour efforts on the state and federal levels to get a permit extension.
“The Department understands that CCC intends to do so, per information received during a recent inspection by ADEM Air Division personnel at the plant,” the letter reads. “Because CCC has no legal authority to operate the Phenix City Plant after December 31, 2022, and because CCC has expressed it has plans to cease operations, Major Source Operating Permit No. 211-0003 is void as of January 1, 2023.”
WRBL has reached out to Continental Carbon plant manager Greg Johnstone. He has not responded to a phone message.
Phenix City Director of Economic Development Shaun Culligan said this to WRBL on Friday.
“We were made aware in the summer that the plant would be closing Dec. 31,” Culligan said. “We have received no notice from Continental Carbon to contradict that.”
Continental Carbon Inc. China Synthetic Rubber Corp. was the subject of a 2007 federal jury verdict. That jury awarded the City of Columbus, Action Marine, and a South Columbus resident $19.5 million dollars for damage as a result of emissions from the plant.
Some Alabama officials, including those in Phenix City, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey wrote letters of support to the EPA for a third extension.
The Columbus City Council passed a resolution in October opposing any extension by the EPA.
Oakland Park residents Arnold and Diedra Spencer have been dealing with carbon black dust for more than two decades. They are convinced that black dust is coming from the carbon black plant just across the Chattahoochee River.
Here’s what Diedra Spencer had to say Friday about the likelihood of the plant’s closure.
“Now is the most positive information I am hearing so far is the possibility that they may – you hear me say may – do something about it.”
Reporter: But you won’t believe it until …
“… until I see it. And keeping that in mind, then the big job comes. And I think you saw that.”
The plant’s closure will knock a hole in the Phenix City economy. The 120 jobs produce about $ 6.5 million in economic impact, Johnston said in a letter to an East Alabama newspaper in August when he was asking for residents to write letters of support for the plant to get the third EPA extension and remain open.
Johnstone said in that letter the company would install new controls, investing more than $100 million in the facility.
The plant spent an additional $4 million with local businesses, Johnstone wrote, and it paid more than $550,000 a year in taxes to local, state, and federal authorities.