Athens leaders honor first responders, discuss possible rules fo - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Athens leaders honor first responders, discuss possible rules for storing hazardous materials

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Little is left of the site of East Texas Ag Supply in downtown Athens. The area is fenced off and under surveillance for security purposes. (Source: KLTV Staff) Little is left of the site of East Texas Ag Supply in downtown Athens. The area is fenced off and under surveillance for security purposes. (Source: KLTV Staff)
During a June 9 meeting Athens Mayor Jerry Don Vaught reads a proclamation honoring first responders to Police Chief Buddy Hill and Fire Chief John McQueary. (Source: KLTV Staff) During a June 9 meeting Athens Mayor Jerry Don Vaught reads a proclamation honoring first responders to Police Chief Buddy Hill and Fire Chief John McQueary. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Members of the Athens Fire Dept. stand and receive a round of applause as a proclamation is read honoring their response along with the response of the Athens Police Dept. to the May 29 fertilizer fire. (Source: KLTV Staff) Members of the Athens Fire Dept. stand and receive a round of applause as a proclamation is read honoring their response along with the response of the Athens Police Dept. to the May 29 fertilizer fire. (Source: KLTV Staff)
ATHENS, TX (KLTV) - The Athens City Council met for the first time since a large fire at a fertilizer storage facility forced the evacuation of hundreds of citizens.

Monday afternoon, the council honored those first responders from the Athens police and fire departments for their response to the fire and evacuation of citizens. The packed council chamber came to their feet to applaud those firefighters and officers in attendance at the meeting.

The fire department's chief gave both departments high praise in their response to the May 29 fire.

"I couldn't be more proud. You stood between the survivability of the community at large and put yourselves on the line," Chief John McQueary said. "[Firefighters] stood their ground until I said evacuate."

McQueary said his firefighters were willing and ready to fight the fire but at his call he ordered them to evacuate themselves and citizens from the area.

All that remains of the site of East Texas Ag Supply in downtown Athens is tarps covering the material that did not burn in the fire and cinder blocks that mark where the building once stood. The building stood in downtown for decades along the railroad tracks that it depended on in its early years to receive fertilizer. In recent years, those deliveries came via truck, just the seventy tons of ammonium nitrate it received on the day of the fire.

The area is cordoned off with a six-foot-tall fence and with chemicals remaining on-site, the property is under constant surveillance.

A plan has been drafted by the company that operated out of that building and is making its way through the local, state and federal agencies that must sign off on it before the area is turned over to the company for cleanup. That plan includes who will be cleaning up the material and how it will be done.

"The product [that remains on site] has to be regulated and tracked to know where it's going and what particular area it went to," Chief McQueary said.

He said the product that remains will be processed down to about 28 percent ammonium nitrate before it can be transported from the site.

There is no timeline for when cleanup will begin or how long it is expected to take.

The City of Athens is also looking at the future of hazardous materials storage facilities in its city. City staff is currently working with the city attorney to discuss what changes could be made.

"There's a lot of things you have to take into consideration," Athens City Administrator Pam Burton said.

She said the council will look at several hazardous materials, not just ammonium nitrate, which was housed at the East Texas Ag Supply building.

Burton said the city is working with its attorney to make sure the possible changes could stand, if challenged by an opponent.

"The city attorney is looking at the best way to do that because we want to make sure whatever we do will hold up in a court of law should someone challenge it," Burton said.

There is no timeline for the proposed changes.

Athens officials hope to get more information on what caused the May 29 fertilizer fire in a detailed report expected by the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office in late June. The office's preliminary report stated the official cause of the fire was undetermined, however, they ruled out all causes expect for an electrical failure at the site.

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