Word of a possible zinc smelting plant to be located in Whitsett quickly spread across the community and resulted in strong opposition being voiced at multiple public meetings, causing Zinc Resources, Inc. to cancel its plans for Live Oak County and focus on Victoria County.

County Judge Jim Huff and County Commissioner Emilio Garza confirmed that plans to locate the zinc smelting facility in Whitsett, located near the Live Oak-Atascosa county line have been withdrawn.

The proposed plant would have been located within Garcia’s precinct. He said he had been getting requests for information from a Victoria County official interested in Zinc Resources proposal to locate the plant there.

More than 100 area residents had voiced their opposition to plans to locate the facility in Live Oak County, and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini and state Rep. Ryan Guillen had called for public meetings regarding the proposed development.

Zinc Resources LLC had applied for an air quality permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and was looking to build an electric air furnace dust recycling plant at 657 County Road in Whitsett. Next door is Whitsett Baptist Church and there are also several homes nearby. 

Among the substances which would be released from the facility are carbon monoxide, potentially hazardous pollutants, nitrogen oxide, organic compounds, lead and sulfur dioxide. A facility in Sinton was expected to send materials known as electric arc furnace (EAF) dust, a by-product of steel mills. This would have been transported to the Whitsett facility via trains and the material would be recycled to salvage zinc.

Whitsett resident Nancy Pullin was among those who had opposed the plant being built in her community.

“This plant will be extremely detrimental to our community,” she said in March, when the facility appeared on the fast track for TCEQ approval. “We voted at a second community meeting with an overwhelming number of people against it. We are concerned for our health as well as the damage to our surrounding land and property values.  

“The CEO was trying to tell us at the first meeting how wonderful this would be for our community. He said they would buy things locally when possible, like uniforms.

He explained there would be jobs, but when he gave away details on total payroll, the amount most people will make will not be very enticing considering the health dangers they will face. The pay is not much better than convenience store clerks. The dust they bring in is highly toxic. If I heard correctly, employees that work near the dust will wear full safety clothing and a respirator at all times and then bathe before leaving the plant.”

Safety concerns were also significant, Pullin said.

“The area where this plant (would have been) built has flooded in the past more than once. It is likely to flood again. Any ground pollution will go into the Atascosa River and go into the lakes that provide water for many people. You can do research on other zinc plants in the U.S. There are major problems from a number of them. 

“It could be that this one is better than those, yet they don’t have enough state of the art equipment to prove to us that it will be safe.

Community opposition was enough to scrap Zinc Resources plans, leading the company to seek an alternate solution to process waste from the Sinton steel plant.

•josborne@mysoutex.com•

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