Environmental safety high priority at town meeting Tuesday afternoon

Horsehead Corporation holds meeting in Hicks Grove community
Dec. 19, 2012 @ 08:18 AM

Construction on Horsehead Corporation’s zinc producing plant off US221 is on schedule and since the last town meeting in August, plant officials have decided to add an additional $40 million to the facility to upgrade materials tanks, making it a $400 million investment in Rutherford County. 

Plant CEO Jim Hensler told about 80 people attending a town hall meeting at Hicks Grove Baptist Church fellowship hall, Tuesday afternoon some management team members have been hired and when the plant is fully operational, there will 235 additional people on the job there.

The production is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2013, probably April, May or June, he said.

He said several people attended two informational meetings at Isothermal Community College last week to talk about job opportunities at Horsehead, and he reminded the group the production and maintenance jobs will be recruited at the Employment Security Office on Trade Street in Forest City. 

After a brief update on the plant’s construction process, Hensler took questions from the audience and most were related to environmental issues with the Broad River.

He said Horsehead is the ultimate recycler as it will recover zinc from steel that has been uncoated and will eventually end up as dust and from the collection of dust, it will go through the production process and turned back into zinc.

“This is the highest level of recycling,” he said.

Hensler said the zinc will be sold by the tons — 150,000 tons a year — and will be transported either by train or by truck.

The zinc will leave the plant in its processed state either in 50 pound slabs or 150 ton slabs, he explained.

After several questions about the safety of the river,  since there will be affluents out of the plant into the river, Hensler said, “there will be no negative impact on the river and no harm to the river.”

Long before Horsehead began the process of building, it had to receive permits from the state regarding the environment and the safety of the river.

“We’re about safety. The last thing we want to do is come to North Carolina and have an environmental issue,” Hensler added.

“Our main concern is not to damage the environment,” he said.

Hensler said the plant will produce a highly controlled product. “We have done a lot of homework, the affluents will not hurt the river.” 

General Manager Chuck Brehm echoed Hensler’s remarks,  “I will have a vested interest in this plant ... If I don’t do what the state permits say I will do, I’ll go to jail.” 

One woman asked if the fish her children catch from the river, will be safe to eat.

“Nothing will be put in the river that is not safe,” Hensler said.

“We are not just saying this stuff about the river . . .there is a scientific methods to all this and I can assure you, it is safe,” Hensler concluded.

The state would not have issued permits for an unsafe affluents, they said.

Plant officials had initially planned to buy raw water from the town of Forest City, but in the past few months, decided to buy treated water from the town.  There is a possibility, water hook-ups will be available to residents either from Forest City or Daniel Morgan Water System, also bringing water to the area.

Hensler told the group the company chose to locate in Rutherford County, primarily because of the economics. The plant will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Officials from Rutherford County, the Town of Forest City, Isothermal Planning and Development Commission and the Mayor of Rutherfordton were among those in the audience.

After the town meeting, everyone was invited to have Christmas cookies and tea before taking bus tours of the plant under construction.

The plant is located on a 200 acre plot and Horsehead is developing 70 acres.

The State Department of Transportation is building a new Hicks Grove Road off US 221.