by James Coulter
The Lake Wales community was invited to ask questions and learn more about a controversial proposed major manufacturing plant during a town hall meeting hosted on Tuesday evening.
Local residents were invited to the Lake Wales Art Center to enjoy refreshments served by Wales Pointe Restaurant and listen to a presentation provided by representatives of Advanced Drainage Solutions (ADS), the company seeking to build a proposed plastic pipe plant along Hunt Brothers Road.
The plant would be constructed at a nearly 100-acre site near Hunt Brothers Road and US Highway 27. It would be used to recycle plastic pellets into pipes used for stormwater projects.
Advocates for the plant claim it will create new jobs and spur economic development. However, opponents have expressed concerns about the plant’s proximity to residential neighborhoods, with concerns about pollution and traffic.
A panel of ADS representatives attempted to address these concerns during the meeting that evening. They discussed their plant’s many processes and the safeguards to protect against potential hazards.
Brian King, Executive Vice President of Produce Management, mentioned how 17 of their plant locations nationwide are within a half mile of residential neighborhoods, and how those locations have only created positive effects for their communities.
Regarding concerns about pollution and other potential hazards, King insisted that their products and the processes for creating them were 100 percent environment-friendly. Their pipes are created from recycled material without chemicals or emissions and reusing water in a closed-loop system.
Furthermore, the proposed plant would be a $20 million investment into the Lake Wales community, creating more than 200 jobs with an average Lake Wales salary of $55,000.
“We want to be part of the community, and we look forward to being a member of the Lake Wales community,” he said.
Chakeyla Anderson, Vice President of Health and Safety, further elaborated on their products and their environmental impact. The pipes are created using recycled plastic pellets. She said it is the same material found in laundry detergent bottles and containers. It is highly recyclable and non-toxic, she said.
Regarding concerns about potential fires, she claimed their plants have fire protection plans in place to address any potential incidents. Most of their flammable material is kept spaced at safe distances so, if a fire were to occur, it would not spread and could be easily put out, she said.
“Our process is so tight, nothing we do should lead to a fire on property,” she said. “We take that seriously. We do not want fires. Neither does our insurance.”
Darin Hawley, Executive Vice President of Supply Chain, mentioned how the only items stored outside were the manufactured plastic pipes. Everything else is stored safely inside. Furthermore, their trucks are driven early in the morning as to not further aggravate local traffic.
“We have 17 facilities in 5 miles of residential areas, and 28 facilities in one mile of residential areas,” he said. “So, we have not had any complaints out of there.”
Following the presentation, attendees were invited to ask questions. More than a dozen attendees submitted inquiries beforehand and were offered the opportunity to ask their questions and raise their concerns.
One resident, Ron Pauler, asked if ADS considered building their plant somewhere else. Hawley replied that their plant would require rail access and a large enough property to accommodate their facility.
When asked if he would be comfortable building the plant near his own home, Darin replied that he would happily do so. “I know how they operate,” he said. “I do not have a problem knowing what they do. I would put this place near because it brings a lot of good jobs to the community.”
Another resident, Catherine Price, inquired about potential issues with air quality and microplastics. She had researched other plants and learned they were required to have hazardous waste permits. She asked if the proposed plant would require such a permit, and why it would be needed if the plant does not use hazardous material.
Hawley responded that the proposed plant would not require a hazardous waste permit, only an industrial wastewater permit. As for microplastics, his company has found no traces of them in freshwater lakes or ponds. Any microplastic would only be potentially found in retention ponds.
“We don’t want them on our property either, which is why we have these processes in place,” he said.
One resident who lives near the plant mentioned how she will be finishing the payments on her house in three years. She raised concerns about the factory lowering her property values.
“When you come in and my property value goes down…are you willing to match the property value that I am getting now in two years?” she asked.
Darin simply replied that their plants do not lower the value of property for nearby residents. If anything, property values go up wherever their plants are constructed.
At their upcoming meeting on Tuesday, The Lake Wales City Commission will vote on a “scrivener’s error” in the City Code that, if amended, would permit the plant to be constructed. The meeting will be held on Tues., May 2 at 6 p.m. The meeting is open for public comment.