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COLUMN: Should proposed asphalt plant concern you and your family?

If you have traveled just outside the city limits of Tahlequah on State Highway 51, perhaps you have noticed some construction going on in the field around Pecan Creek. Until recently, most people hadn’t known what this was going to be.

Robinson Construction is building an asphalt plant mere meters outside city limits. The Tahlequah City Council was asked to approve an easement for a gas line to the site.

The council passed a motion to enact the metropolitan clause, which is said to be going before the Cherokee County Commissioners at some point to create a group to investigate zoning laws regarding the plant.

There has been very little discourse or discussion. The owner of the plant appeared to build as much of the plant as possible.

According to a notice of violation that was issued by the Department of Environmental Quality on Feb. 9, Robinson Construction owner, Chad Robinson holds a DEQ-issued Oklahoma Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General permit.

That allows Robinson Construction to discharge stormwater runoff from the construction site to Pecan Creek.

"Among other requirements, the authorization requires Robinson to implement effective erosion and sediment controls, conduct inspections, and take and document corrective actions," the notice of violation stated.

A citizen complaint was filed Dec. 12, 2023, with the DEQ that alleged Robinson Construction was “working on a large construction project and had been diverting dirt into a nearby creek.”

The complaint was investigated Dec. 12, 2023, and Robinson Construction had failed to maintain the sediment controls onsite, which allowed sediment to leave the construction site.

According to the notice of violation, Robison Construction personnel was observed to cross Pecan Creek with heavy equipment without any kind of culvert or bridge and Robinson Construction didn’t have an authorization under the OKR10 General Construction permit at the time.

On Jan. 19, 2024, a district engineer with the DEQ inspected the site and found sediment basins were not properly maintained in accordance with the general permit, the silt fence along the north bank of Pecan Creek was damaged and partially broken, and the site map didn’t match the physical site.  

The company had 15 days to correct the violations or the DEQ could seek injunctive relief. The DEQ was asked if those issues had been corrected as of March 18, 2024, and they responded, “DEQ has further enforcement with the company, but it is not yet final.”

The City Council took no action on the matter of the easement after many concerned homeowners and ranchers expressed their extreme displeasure. Robinson spoke to the council, and he stated that, just like his other plants, this would have very strict rules put into place.

That was exactly the concern of the homeowners and ranchers. The other plants have had many complaints of noise and air pollution as well as mystery illnesses, even with the strictest of regulations.  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air contaminants can travel up to two miles. To put this into perspective, hundreds of homes will be affected; Grandview school; Anthis Brennan Sports Complex; Phoenix Park; and Tahlequah High School and Middle School are all within range of particulates from the plant.

The known toxins that all asphalt plants emit are Carbon Disulfide, Hexane, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Toluene, Xylene, Styrene, CFC-11, Benzene, Methylene Chloride and Perchloroethylene.

These are known neurotoxins and developmental toxins; they have a negative impact on the human nervous system and human growth and development.

These toxins are also known carcinogens that cause cancer in humans, especially children.

The short-term effects can be eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation causing coughing, wheezing, and sometimes shortness of breath. Long-term effects can occur after exposure and can last for months or years.

I would recommend not just trusting the information in this article, but even a quick google search will reveal enough about the health effects of something of this magnitude.

If you are wondering what can be done by an ordinary concerned citizen, make a quick phone call or email to your local City Council member or County Commissioner.

The phone number to City Hall is 918-456-0651, and 918-456-4121 is to the commissioners.


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