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Air permit still in doubt after hearings

Posted on: 06.24.2018 at 11:00 a.m.

By Diana Matthews

dianamatthews@nrcolumbus.com

Officials of the N.C. Division of Air Quality have not returned several calls and emails made to them by The News Reporter since the end of the public comment period concerning a proposed log treatment plant in eastern Columbus County.

Malec Brothers Transport LLC is a family-run logistics company based in Australia that buys timber and ships it to buyers, mostly in Asia. Last year they established a pilot program in Wilmington and developed relationships with timber farmers and truck drivers in the area; they determined that they could build a successful business in southeastern North Carolina.

The company, at its home site in Australia, fumigates logs in closed shipping containers before loading them on ships as is mandated by their customers to prevent the spread of fungi, pine beetles and other pests from one country to another. They use the pesticide methyl bromide, which was formerly used on tobacco and strawberry beds in North Carolina. The 2005 Montreal Protocol phased out methyl bromide in over 100 countries, along with chlorofluorocarbon-powered sprays, in order to protect the Earth’s ozone layer.

Methyl bromide is now limited to a few uses that the Environmental Protection Agency deems vital, including to treat fruits and vegetables coming into the U.S. and timber being exported.

Malec Brothers did not fumigate logs during its trial setup in Wilmington, said Brad Newland of the Wilmington DAQ office. Because Malec Brothers wanted to begin fumigating on a permanent site, Newland encouraged them to look outside the heavily populated port area. At the same time Malec was becoming established, another Wilmington log-exporting company, Tima Capital, applied for a permit to use methyl bromide, which led to a large outpouring of opposition just as Malec Brothers’ permit was in the final stages of approval, Newland said.

David Smith, one of the managing partners of Malec Brothers, communicated with the newspaper recently to say that he and his colleagues continue investigating a technology that would reduce or eliminate emissions of methyl bromide into the atmosphere. The DAQ, said Smith, was also evaluating the technology.

William Willets of the Raleigh DAQ office said after the second public hearing, held May 15 at East Columbus High School, that a hearing officer would take up to 30 days, but probably less time than that, to make recommendations to the Division’s director, Michael Abraczinskas, who would issue or deny the permit.

A month later, Smith said, “DAQ aren’t returning calls” to him, either. He described the situation as “very frustrating, as the logs we had in the yard are now considered waste as they have deteriorated in quality and value.” Malec Brothers had millions of dollars of wood stacked up and ready to treat in early May, when the DAQ informed them that the permit process would be extended for more public comments, Smith said.

“From our end,” Smith said, “we are continuing to work with the manufacturer of the emissions destruction technology in the hope of implementing that solution as soon as possible.”

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