Public Hearing Called on Water Pollution Permit for Tyson Plant in Blountsville

Tyson’s Blountsville plant (Source: Nelson Brooke)

A public hearing will be held Nov. 19 concerning a proposed new permit that would set limits on how much pollution and storm water Tyson Foods could discharge into waterways from its Blountsville chicken processing plant.

The plant is upstream of two public recreation areas, Mardis Mill Falls and King’s Bend. It is not the Tyson facility that caused a recent massive fish kill in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management will host the hearing at 6 p.m. at American Legion Post #129, 1148 College St. in Blountsville.

The draft permit would allow the Blountsville plant to release about 1.3 million gallons of wastewater daily to Graves Creek, a tributary of the Locust Fork, as well as to the Locust Fork itself.  The wastewater would include bacteria and nutrient pollution. Tyson Foods could also discharge polluted stormwater under the permit if approved.

The nonprofit Black Warrior Riverkeeper said in a news release that Graves Creek and the Locust Fork are “already subject to a cap on the amount of nutrient pollution they can absorb because they are already significantly polluted” by nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia and other nutrients that, among other problems, can cause excessive growth of algae, which can reduce dissolved oxygen available for aquatic life. Most of the pollution in the waterways is due to discharges from the chicken processing plant, Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke said.

In 2018, Tyson/Blountsville was listed by the Environmental Integrity Project as third in the nation for issuing the most nutrient nitrogen pollution into an impaired stream.

Brooke said the Mardis Mill Falls and King’s Bend recreation areas are popular with the public. King’s Bend is a new public access area with a scenic overlook at the Highway 79/U.S. 231 bridge. It also includes a whitewater paddling section, the Swann Covered Bridge, and Powell Falls.

Brooke appealed to concerned citizens to attend the hearing to speak to “your use of Graves Creek and the Locust Fork and the importance of them being cleaned up for recreation, wildlife and the local economy.”

The nonprofit environmental organization already has asked for changes in the draft permit in a letter submitted to the environmental management department. Among other items, it includes a request to remove a proposed pipe allowing direct discharge to the Locust Fork, to limit discharges to protect threatened and endangered species and federally protected habitat downstream of the plant, to lower limits for nutrients, bacteria and biochemical oxygen demand, and to make use of best available technology to treat pollutants.