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DEQ questioned about ITD permit week prior to public hearing on proposed Hamlet plant

Richmond County

HAMLET —  A week ahead of a public hearing, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality held a virtual meeting last Monday evening to discuss studies and field questions surrounding the proposed International Tie Disposal plant.

ITD is in the permitting and planning stages of building a railroad tie disposal facility in Richmond County near the municipalities of Dobbins Heights and Hamlet. The company applied for a synthetic minor air quality permit in September.

ITD has plans to dispose of the old railroad ties using a process dubbed pyrolysis. 

Pyrolysis is a technique that essentially cooks the ties, thereby driving out many chemicals from the wood including creosote, a preservative added during railroad tie production. It is this creosote that formed the center of many questions asked by the public.   

Creosote, a collective term for many chemicals that boil off of heated fossil fuels and woods has been used as a preservative for many years. Many people may be familiar with the creosote that builds up in chimneys of wood-fired fireplaces or as the source of some flavors in smoked meats. 

Matthew Christian, the city manager of Hamlet, posed several questions to DEQ staff including how much creosote was left in each tie when processed at the site. 

According to DEQ staff, through journal review, it was found that in 20-30-year-old end-of-life ties “there is minimal volatilization of the creosote” and only a “small amount [of creosote] is present on the ties.”

The staff also said it made a visit to a site in North Carolina that stores railroad ties to determine if there were any odors given off by the ties. The staff indicated that no odors were detected.  

Richmond County resident Chad Gardner also asked about the creosote content of the ties. Gardner added that the railroad ties association boosts that their used railroad ties contain 14 pounds of creosote. The DEQ staff agreed with Gardner’s number, indicating that they too found similar figures indicating that new ties contained 20 pounds of creosote and that creosote content dropped to approximately 13 pounds by end of life of the tie.  

Gardner also pressed the staff on earlier comments regarding their site visit that the staff used to determine odors coming from stored ties, asking how many ties were stored at the sample site and what time of year the visit occurred. 

The staff stated that they visited the facility in winter and that 2.5 million ties were stored on the sample site. 

The proposed Richmond County site is expected to contain a half-million ties according to the DEQ staff, who added they tested if the ties could be smelled on the roadway or if the ties could be smelled by walking in between the piles. They were surprised by the “lack of odor.” 

Christian said that Hamlet had not been reached out to by ITD beyond a required zoning consistency statement and asked for clarification on what outreach had taken place. Earlier in the meeting, a representative from ITD indicated that some form of community outreach had occurred. 

Residents also asked about dust creation and mitigation. The staff indicated that ITD will be using a low-speed chomper located in two intermodal containers implying that the process should produce very little dust. 

 Christian also questioned whether the zoning status of ITD’s proposed location had any effect on the permitting process. At the time of the application, the property was zoned rural residential /agricultural, but was rezoned heavy industrial by the Richmond County Board of Commissioners in October. At the time, commissioners were not told what was planned for the property.

DEQ indicated that zoning was outside the scope of their permitting. 

The proposed plant has faced opposition from neighbors and environmental groups.

Several residents sent letters to commissioners, pleading that the property, owned by CSX Transportation, not be rezoned.


Concerns include reduction in property values, contamination of ground water for those with wells, air pollution, degradation of the roads, and excessive noise.

Neighbors were also worried about how industry would affect wildlife, like the near-threatened red-headed woodpecker, and livestock from nearby chicken farms.

The city of Hamlet, town of Dobbins Heights and two families who live in the area of the proposed plant filed a legal complaint in December.

Hamlet officials cite concerns for the city’s nearby water supply.

In a press release issued last week, environmental group Clean Water of NC said that if the permit is approved, “the agency would be siting a toxic industry and placing additional environmental health burdens in an area that is predominantly low income and African American, creating grave Environmental Justice concerns.”

Richmond County Economic Developer Martie Butler has created a website to address frequently asked questions regarding the proposed ITD site: https://www.richmondnc.com/541/Information-FAQ-for-International-Tie-Di?fbclid=IwAR0v5elYxHzycNSkxq9av6Yt9DITJ0HG4BMRSru8E7QTMbc55QX8kpV949Q

According to that site, there are no visible emissions from the kilns operated at the plant.

“For ITD’s proposed facility, the DEQ’s draft permit states that the permit would require testing on four (4) kilns within the first 90 days to ensure compliance with the air quality permit’s established limits for a Synthetic Minor Permit,” according to the website. “Additionally, continuous monitoring is specified with data that ITD will need to submit to the DEQ for review. This will also ensure compliance with all applicable law, and the proposed permit limitations.”

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, March 1.

To join the meeting:

  • Phone: US TOLL +1-415-655-0003, Access Code 178 470 3734
  • WebEx Link: https://bit.ly/39golwj
  • Event Password: NCDAQ

William R. Toler contributed to this story.






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