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Judge: Keep Talmo plant closed
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A Jackson County judge has ordered a waste recycling plant blamed for foul odors to stop accepting waste until it can prove it is not a threat to public health or safety.

The order extends an injunction that shut down the private Agri-Cycle wastewater recycling plant on Sept. 7, two days after a treatment pond caught fire and burned through the night.

Jackson County Superior Court Judge David Motes wrote in a nine-page court order filed Monday that the plant’s operation "constitutes a clear and present danger to the citizens of Jackson County and the state of Georgia."

The plant, which opened in 2005, collects waste from chicken plants and restaurants, decomposes it using bacteria and then processes the remaining wastewater by spreading it onto fields.

The residents of Talmo, a town near a railroad line about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta, have been holding hearings and begging public officials to snuff out the plant for good since it opened.

Jackson County commissioners filed a lawsuit — still pending — that claims the plant is misusing a zoning permit.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division took action, too, arguing in court that the plant repeatedly dumps untreated waste into a nearby creek, has expanded without a permit, and overloaded fields and lagoons used to break down restaurant grease and poultry waste.

The plant’s lawyers say they need more time to install new filters and other technology that could cut down on the odor. They said more recent tests have shown the plant has had minimal impact on the creek, and point to internal reports that could prove the plant has cleaned up some groundwater pollutants.

In the court’s decision Monday, Motes said Agri-Cycle had repeatedly violated its wastewater permit by never using a pretreatment screening process to remove solids from wastewater before treatment and by adding an additional lagoon without approval from the state.

The plant’s owner, Richard Harville, did not immediately return phone calls to ask whether he planned to appeal the court’s order.

State environmental officials applauded the ruling.

"We are very pleased with the ruling," said Jim Ussery, assistant director of the EPD. "We think it was the appropriate thing to do, and we hope it holds up."