A local property owner says a business agreement currently being considered by county officials stinks.
T.J. Sims just got wind of a business that has a contract to purchase a property adjacent to her own. She first learned of the deal when a couple of customers were discussing a proposed recycling facility over a cup of coffee at her cafe on U.S. Highway 67. And she immediately began asking questions.
Sims discovered the county has been in discussions with SR2O (Scrap Rubber to Oil) Holdings, an Oklahoma-based company that plans to turn scrap rubber into renewable fuels at a tire recycling facility in Somervell County.
Commissioner Larry Hulsey, Pct. 1, and County Judge Mike Ford have confirmed that a few county officials have met with the owners of SR2O on more than one occasion, and those discussions will continue in a public meeting next week. The meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 10 at the county annex, featuring a presentation by SR2O representatives.
Ford believes the public will share his enthusiasm when they learn more about the company and technology they use.
"I'm completely sold," Ford said. "Anyone who is concerned needs to attend the meeting and hear the presentation."
Sims said her concerns include potential air pollution, local resources like water that will be needed to maintain the operation and the smell of burning tires wafting across her family's land and into their home.
"I understand her concerns, living right next door," Hulsey said, adding he is still undecided on the issue. "I need more information."
T.J. and her husband, Clint Sims, have lived on the property - their "own little piece of Heaven on Earth" - for about 15 years.
"My husband and I worked hard for many years, and everything - our home and the land - is paid for," she said, adding she doesn't understand why county officials have not been more public about the proposal.
"Why is it such a secret?" she asked.
Sims said she was told the recycling facility would be built on the 200 acres just on the other side of the fence from her FM 56 home and her concerns also relate to potential health and safety hazards.
"I live there and so do my husband, my son and my neighbors, who I love," Sims said.
Ford said the proposed tire recycling facility is nothing like the images that the words "burning rubber" bring to mind. He said the Environmental Protection Agency has already sent a letter backing the company as the issue relates to air quality.
"And a single tire will never hit the ground," Ford said.
While the recycling facility would have a smokestack, Hulsey said it would only emit smoke and fumes during an emergency situation.
The process - it involves pyrolysis technology - recycles entire tires, keeping every scrap out of landfills. Pyrolysis is decomposition, or chemical change, brought about by heat.
Hulsey said the tires - rubber and steel - would be chipped up and shipped to the Somervell County facility in bins. Heat would be used to break the rubber and metal into substance that could be recycled into things like jet and diesel fuels and steel bricks.
According to the SR2O website, sr2o.com/tire, additional refining and scrubbing of carbon powder creates a product that can be used in filtration, printer inks and toners, automotive parts and within the nanotechnology and aerospace industries.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality - tceq.com - references pyrolysis, saying previous efforts to commercialize the thermal distillation of organic materials into usable products had proven to not be economically viable. In an undated statement, TCEQ cited limited marketability, high product cost, operating cost, capital investment and expensive equipment in the lack of success in the realm of tire pyrolysis.
But SR2O believes that current technology addresses those issues.
So what's in it for the county? The benefits could include millions of dollars in revenue annually and several dozen jobs, according to Hulsey. And he said the business venture would not require the investment of taxpayer funds.
Ford elaborated by saying the agreement would be a public/private partnership in which the county would own the land and lease it to SR2O.
"We would end up getting a flat fee plus a percentage," Ford said, adding he sees the opportunity as an unexplored source of local government funding.
"Something like this gives us the opportunity to not have to depend solely on revenue from Luminant," he added.
That concern - the devaluation of Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant - has been a hot topic for the last few years. About 80 percent of Somervell County's budget comes from the plant's annual property tax payments. Devaluation and looming bankruptcy filing by Luminant's parent company, Energy Future Holdings, has spurred an urgent need for county officials to tap into new revenue streams.
But Sims said she hopes local officials do their homework before agreeing to anything. She hopes they explore the health risks, environmental impact and also hopes the effort to attract growth and development does not make Somervell County unattractive to newcomers looking to relocate to the area.
She said sources told her the company was turned away by officials in Alvarado and Johnson County, where officials had concerns of their own. Calls to those officials from the Reporter for comment were not immediately returned.
Ford said his key concern is prosperity. And he believes Somervell County may be on the right track.
Officials recently signed an agreement with weapons manufacturer Prometheus Solutions, trading about 15 acres within Bo Gibbs Industrial Park for a promise of an increased job market and taxable improvements on the land. And a recently forged partnership with the Center for Innovation could stir more interest from various industries looking for a place to set up shop.
SR2O was introduced to Somervell County by Wes Jurey, Center for Innovation CEO, who also helped direct Prometheus to the local area. That direction was provided prior to the local area entering into partnership with the center.
In addition to concerned citizens, Ford said an invitation to attend Monday's meeting has been extended to homebuilders, developers and real estate professionals across the county. He said if an agreement is met with SR2O, Somervell County should have adequate housing and other services available to prevent the company's employees from commuting to work from other areas and taking their paychecks to other communities for dining, shopping and entertainment.
"This is an excellent opportunity for growth and development," Ford said. "One that could benefit everyone in the county."