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ODNR in the crosshairs over Martins Ferry’s Austin Master plant

COLUMBUS — The Austin Masters Services frack waste processing plant in Martins Ferry continues to face criticism from some area residents for its handling of waste products.

On Wednesday, an online meeting hosted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources attracted nearly two dozen residents and members of Concerned Ohio River Residents advocacy group. ODNR representatives Adam Schroader and Tara Kinsey-Lee were pelted with questions and criticism, with participants saying ODNR was not acting quickly enough to regulate the waste product industry, among other concerns.

Schroader opened the meeting by explaining the new rule for regulating companies that deal with waste products from hydraulic fracturing operations in the natural gas and oil industry.

“The rule governs the citing, permitting, construction, operation and reclamation of oil and gas waste facilities,” he said. “The rule includes general provisions that ensure the prevention of contamination and pollution, protection of underground system drinking water and surface water, and the appropriate handling of oil and gas waste.”

Other aspects of the rule include public notices, permit requirements, water well sampling, enforcement procedures and citing criteria.

Some meeting attendees were critical that it took so long for a rule to be instituted. The question-and-answer session followed immediately after the explanation of the rule, with many of the questions for ODNR prepared beforehand.

Roxanne Groff expressed confusion over injection wells and facilities in referencing the new rule. Kinsey-Lee said a company has 15 days to produce information that is requested. She said the process of sharing information with the public begins with ODNR’s public notice on its website and a notice in the local newspaper “to notify partners required in the format of the rules” after an application to permit a well is filed.

Kinsey-Lee said some examples of information shared in this way include a radiation protection program, dust control plan and storm water protection plan.

“We will notify them that they have submitted a complete application and then from that point, that’s a written notification, they have 15 days to submit their public notice in the newspaper,” Kinsey-Lee said regarding injection wells.

Waste facilities must notify and identify, either by certified mail or courier, residents within 1,500 feet of the waste facility when seeking a permit, according to Kinsey-Lee. She added that a public comment period is 30 days from the date that ODNR puts up a public notice on its website of a coming meeting.

Kinsey-Lee explained that when it comes to an apartment complex within 1,500 feet, the property owner of that complex has five days to notify their tenants or “all residences on the property.” She affected residents are the only ones who can call for a meeting.

She said the injection well rule is similar to the waste rule with a minimum of a half-mile and a maximum 2-mile radius around the proposed injection well location. She said those are the people who would be notified.

Julie Weatherington-Rice, a Bennett & Williams Environmental Consultant Inc. employee for 36 years, asked whether the property owners are actually notified. If not, she asked, “what is their recourse?”

Kinsey-Lee said she could not answer that question “at this time” but said ODNR requires companies to give it a list of who has been notified.

When asked if the radius up to 2 miles takes slope or grade into consideration, Kinsey-Lee said it only includes radius.

The criticism began to come forth with Barnesville resident and CORR member Jill Hunkler telling the ODNR representatives their rules were inadequate for protecting the public’s health. She named several area counties and what people there have had to endure as a result of these types of facilities.

“I’m also going to ask that representatives of ODNR come down to our region immediately, and meet these communities and speak to the residents who are suffering the effects of your poor regulations,” Hunkler said while offering to aid in that arrangement.

Other comments included allegations that hexavalent chromium was detected under the Austin Master building, a former Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel mill, and that ODNR does not have the situation under control. Others complained that several agencies responsible for overseeing toxic waste, such as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and ODNR, do not communicate with each other, which they said leads to more problems.

Bridgeport resident Beverly Reed of CORR went further, asking what ODNR is doing to make sure waste products are being kept in place. Kinsey-Lee said swipes are taken daily on the floor of the Austin Master facility to test the concentration of radiation.

“Your agency did nothing for years. Why?” Reed asked Kinsey-Lee. “How do you know we’re safe? We don’t feel like we’re safe here.”

Kinsey-Lee said the company has developed a radiation protection plan and that it is monitored.

“We will review their processes, and we’ll move forward with what we deem is required. I need to look into that further at this time. I’m not prepared to give you a specific answer,” Kinsey-Lee said regarding waste material Reed said is moving out of the facility and being tracked into the community.

A call to Austin Master Services seeking comment was answered, but the individual on the phone refused to identify himself or comment on the situation.

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