Community members holding noses over plant’s creosote fumes, leaders’ inaction on issue

Published 6:46 am Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Members of one Alabama community are holding their noses when it comes to leaders’ inaction over the fumes emanating from a local crosstie treatment plant.

Community members expressed concerns about creosote fumes from the Stella-Jones crosstie treatment plant in Lomax to the Clanton City Council during a meeting on Feb. 14. Similar concerns had been expressed in 2019 to the Clanton Board of Adjustment.

Tommy Truss said the Clanton Board of Adjustment in 2019 had found that the fumes were in violation of a city ordinance regarding nuisance fumes. Stella-Jones then appealed the decision in Circuit Court.

“As a group, you all say you want to enhance Clanton’s image,” Truss said. “Getting blasted with creosote fumes when you enter from the north on Highway 31 does nothing to help the image of Clanton. We have tried to get an answer as to why you are not enforcing your zoning laws. If you are not going to take further action to enforce the ordinance on your books, please tell us now so that we can move on to other options.”

Mayor Jeff Mims and building inspector Gene Martin said the city did not have jurisdiction over smells and air quality. Rather, this is handled by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Mims said the Clanton Board of Adjustment did not have the authority to require anything related to smells.

“As a city, there is nothing we can do,” Mims said.

Council member Billy Singleton shared a legal opinion from the League of Municipalities that stated “a city or county is prohibited from regulating air pollution.”

“The city as a municipality has no authority to intervene,” Singleton said.

Later in the meeting, Community member Sue Smith said she has filed several complaints to ADEM prior to the city Board of Adjustment having a hearing, which had said mitigating action needed to be taken by Stella-Jones.

“It hasn’t gotten any better,” Smith said.

Smith read the nuisance ordinance from section three of the city zoning regulations, which stated action could be taken against fumes by the Board of Adjustment.

“We are not talking about odors … creosote fumes are horrible,” Smith said. “… You don’t want your people living in that I don’t think, and I think your ordinance says you can do something about it.”

Martin said that creosote had not been determined by the state to create air pollution health issues.

The community members present had the right to file a civil lawsuit against the company if they wanted to, Mims said.

Stella-Jones has a 10-year tax abatement with the city of Clanton, which ends this year.  Truss wanted to know if the tax abatement would be considered for renewal. Mims said no.