MOULTRIE -- A Moultrie company that has been in business for 37 years may be forced to close its doors if it is unable to meet requirements of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

A meeting held Thursday between the City of Moultrie and Gene Gibbs, owner of Southern Plating Co. Inc., allowed both sides to view the options. City Utilities Director Roger King was forced to revoke the company's discharge permit and issue a cease-and-desist order Jan. 10 because the company did not adequately address EPD containment issues.

King said Southern Plating had deliberately discharged prohibited waste into the city's sewer system, including dumping unknown materials into the system after being warned Nov. 12 not to do so. Tanks that eventually discharge into the city's system appeared to contain unknown solvents, King said, and Gibbs did not run a pre-treatment process as required by the EPD prior to discharge.

Despite the seriousness of the actions by the company, King said he felt revoking their permit would be in the city's best interest over criminal prosecution or fines. King said it also was not in the city's best interest to put Southern Plating out of business after 37 years.

An anonymous call to the EPD led to the city's investigation into Southern Plating's discharge practices. The city held a show cause hearing Jan. 10 to allow Gibbs to retain his permit by showing he had corrected violations the city's investigation had found, but the measures taken by Gibbs were not deemed satisfactory for him to retain the permit.

Gibbs was allowed a 10-day period to appeal the city's decision, but City Manager Bob Hopkins said that time period had already passed. Even though the company pre-dates industrial waste ordinances, the city adopted an ordinance to issue waste permits in 1980, and Southern Plating's permit was set to expire Dec. 31, 2005.

Councilman George Walker, who served as chairman of the meeting, said the city did not want to lose Southern Plating's business. The city wanted to keep the business going but also avoid fines from the EPD for allowing an unsafe business to operate. He said he wanted Gibbs, the city and the EPD to reach a "happy medium" and satisfy all parties.

Gibbs said he would be unable to pay for the necessary requirements, such as spill containment systems, without having Southern Plating in operation. Because of the cease-and-desist order, the company had lost 24 of its 25 customers, and Gibbs hoped the meeting would allow him to retain the one remaining customer and re-open.

King said the containment system would be costly, but the EPD requires it.

Hopkins said the city would contact the EPD and try to set up a meeting to show that progress is being made in bringing the company up to regulations. Gibbs said he would do anything and would work with anybody to get the company back running.

King said if Gibbs would create a strategy to meet EPD requirements, he would send the proposal directly to them for approval. If the EPD approved the proposal, he would allow Southern Plating to re-apply for their permit.

"If (the EPD), says okay," King said, "I'll say okay."

Gibbs said Moultrie has been good to Southern Plating, and it has been a good customer for the city. It is the only business of its kind, in industrial metal finishing, between Atlanta and Tampa, Fla., and he wants desperately to stay open and in Moultrie. He was stunned that such a big issue would arise from dumping two quarts of untreated oil.

Hopkins said the city is exploring options to resolve the problem and is hopeful the city, Southern Plating and the EPD can find a way to resolve the situation.

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