Originally created 02/10/00

Battery plant to generate 120 new jobs



WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- An Italian company with American offices in Connecticut and Michigan is planning a $30 million battery manufacturing plant in Burke County that would generate about 120 new jobs.

Fiamm Technologies Inc. has applied to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division for air quality permits needed to operate such a facility. The plant also would require wastewater and hazardous waste permits.

Jerry Long, Burke County's economic development director, said Fiamm operates six factories in Italy. The Burke County plant would build backup batteries for the telecommunications industry.

"It's an interesting and environmentally friendly technology," Mr. Long said. The site would occupy about 30 acres in the Waynesboro-Burke County Industrial Park.

Burke County has been negotiating with the company for four months. Fiamm also was courted by Richmond and Columbia counties, he said.

Fiamm's final decision on building the factory depends on securing necessary environmental permits, which are administered by EPD. But they must adhere to federal standards for lead acid battery plants.

A Columbus company, GNB, proposed a lead battery recycling facility in Burke County almost a decade ago and stirred vigorous opposition among residents.

The new plant is different from the defunct GNB proposal in terms of the technology involved but is nonetheless generating concerns.

"A rose is still a rose, and a battery plant is still a battery plant," said Richard Moser, a retired chemical engineer and Burke County resident who fears the plant could bring unwelcome environmental hazards.

"We're looking at this from the standpoint of not wanting lead dust in the air," he said. Other concerns include disposal of hazardous waste and proper treatment of wastewater generated by the industry.

Mr. Moser and other concerned residents have scheduled a 7 p.m. meeting for Feb. 17 at Burke County Library to discuss the project.

Jimmy Johnston, permitting program manager for EPD's air protection branch, said the proposed plant is unlike the controversial GNB facility in that Fiamm would bring in its own lead and other raw materials.

The recycling plant proposed by GNB wanted to bring in waste batteries, then break them up to recover the lead. "This plant would have no lead smelter," Mr. Johnston said.

The air quality permit sought by the company would set limits on emissions and adhere to specially devised federal rules governing production of lead acid batteries, he said.

Because residents have expressed concerns, he said EPD will hold a public meeting, followed by a public hearing, at 7 p.m. March 16 at the Burke County Office Park Auditorium.

"This would be a public meeting with a question-and-answer session," Mr. Johnston said. "Then after that, we'll have a formal public hearing in which people can make formal comments, oral or written."

Company officials referred questions to Stefano Rosselini, the company's vice president, who was out of town Tuesday, and to Don Stockton, Fiamm's vice president of operations, who was in transit from one office to another and could not return telephone calls Tuesday.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.