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Blue Ridge Paper Permit Renewal Deadlines

We still have 6 more weeks to go on our ability to participate in the public commenting period for the upcoming NPDES permit renewal of Blue Ridge Paper in Canton, NC. Here's some pertinent information for easy reference to learn what's happening, some links for public articles, and everything you need to be able to send in your comments.


Online public hearing Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at 6:00 pm

Public comments are accepted through April 30, 2021

Blue Ridge Paper has requested renewal of its PDES discharge permit for its facility located at the BRP Products Wastewater Treatment Plant, located off Highway 215 (175 Main Street) in Canton, to receiving waters designated as the Pigeon River, French Broad River Basin.

This permit sets limits and guidelines to the discharge of industrial, stormwater, municipal and landfill leachate wastewaters into waters of North Carolina. This facility is located upstream of Tennessee's state border and also impacts the neighboring state's water quality.

Revisions include changes in current monitoring requirements at the Fiberville Bridge and removal of a color variance, and a request for a substantial increase in water intake from the river.


To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the hearings will be held remotely. Members of the public can use the link below to access both hearings, and may participate online or by phone.

Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Time: 6 p.m.

WebEx password: Nk2BCEzm7P2

WebEx phone number: 1-415-655-0003

WebEx access code: 171 787 6586 (Please see information below regarding registering for, joining, and commenting at either public hearing.)

Registration must be completed by 12 Noon on April 14, 2021. For online registration issues, please call 919-707-9011 or email peter.johnston@ncdenr.govby the registration deadline.


Public comments are being received through April 30, 2021. Public comments may be emailed with “Blue Ridge Paper Products” in the subject line to, or mailed through the USPS to:

Wastewater Permitting

Attn: Blue Ridge Paper Products Permit

1617 Mail Service Center

Raleigh, N.C., 27699-1617

Comments will be considered in the final determinations of permit issuance and provisions, and variance removal. Comments previously submitted will be considered. Comments sent prior to the rescheduled date, do not need to be resubmitted.


  1. Color Variance

We believe color is still objectionable in the Pigeon River in Tennessee. Unfortunately, the draft permit proposes to eliminate the color variance. As stated in "Conclusions/Recommendations" in the History of NPDES Permit for Blue Ridge Paper, LLC, document, based in part on "the increased use of the river for recreational purpose[s], and facility requested removal of the Color Variance applicable to their permit," the color variance would be discontinued. The Division believes that "the facility has achieved compliance with the intention of the NC narrative water quality standard at 1A-NCAC-02B-.0211 and is no longer eligible to continue the variance."

Ironically, North Carolina submits that the success of the color variance is grounds for eliminating it, ignoring that additional improvement can and should be achieved. The color variance has been the foundation for the continued health and environmental improvement of the river over many years and there is continued necessity for the variance. Removal of the color variance will simply kneecap the river's further progress. It appears North Carolina has declared victory and gone home when the battle is not yet won.

The NCEQ has a regulatory, fiduciary duty to protect the Pigeon River and the proposed color variance removal will retard rather than enhance the water quality parameter for color. The Division’s rationale itself notes that EPA translated a narrative standard to a numeric value for the Pigeon River in the early 1980’s, determining “an instream standard of 50 PCU (platinum-Cobalt units).” The Division’s rationale recognizes that “in absence of acceptable site-specific color perception studies, North Carolina DEQ is forced to use 50 PCU as the de facto instream color standard” (emphasis in original). The Division’s proposal contradicts the “de facto instream color standard” that its rationale recognizes and abrogates EPA’s color standard would be legally questionable. It is by utilization of the 50 PCU standard that there has been such remarkable success in cleaning up the Pigeon River over the past several decades. The color standard has acted as a safeguard and catalyst for the progress. If this mill is to keep discharging, the color variance continues to be required under rules of the Clean Water Act and so should not be removed.

  1. The existing NPDES permit for this facility was issued in May 2010. Federal regulations require these types of permits shall be reviewed and reissued at five (5) year intervals. An eleven (11) year interval for review and public comment of this permit is not acceptable. This delay in reissuance has not allowed for the public to make timely comments about the allowable discharges from Blue Ridge Paper Mill.

  1. The 2010 NPDES permit calls for the papermill to submit reports to the State of North Carolina detailing any spills associated with color within the plant or proposed improvements at the facility. We respectfully request copies of these reports for review and the required investigation of improved color removal technology that was to be conducted once during the term of the permit.

  1. The draft permit calls for an increase in withdrawal from the Pigeon River at the plant from 29.9 mgd to 34 mgd. The summer 7Q10 at this location is 52 cfs (34 mgd). The Town of Canton’s water treatment plant can process up to 4.0 mgd. This permit would allow the plant and Town to withdraw the entire flow from the river during low flow conditions before discharging treated wastewater back into the stream. This increase in flow withdrawal should not be permitted.

  1. The proposed permit does not include maximum allowable concentrations for BOD5, total suspended solids, total nitrogen and total phosphorus. This permit should include these values in order to continue to protect the health of the Pigeon River.




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