Saturday, November 12, 2011

St. Johns Riverkeeper wants answers on pipeline

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By Virginia Chamlee

In an op-ed published in today’s Florida Times-Union, St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon writes that Floridians “deserve answers” about a nearly four-mile pipeline that would carry waste from a Palatka paper mill owned by Koch Industries subsidiary Georgia-Pacific into the St. Johns River.

In 2001, an administrative law judge approved Georgia-Pacific’s request to construct and operate a four-mile pipeline from Putnam County’s Rice Creek into the much-larger St. Johns River. Without the pipeline, Georgia-Pacific would not be meeting certain color and conductivity standards in Rice Creek, where they have been disposing of their wastewater since the late 1940s.

Armingeon has long been adamant that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection carefully review the pipeline before going forward, citing concerns that Georgia-Pacific’s effluent may contain cancer-causing dioxin.

“If one only reads the propaganda and sees the misleading advertising campaign by the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Palatka, you would think that GP and their proposed pipeline are actually good for our St. Johns River,” writes Armingeon. “However, the truth is that Georgia Pacific and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection continue to avoid valid questions from qualified experts about ongoing pollution problems at the mill. Thankfully, [Jacksonville] Councilman Jim Love recently introduced a resolution that opposes the issuance of a wastewater discharge permit until all questions have been answered, including those regarding dioxin.”

It may seem straightforward enough, but Love’s resolution has had its critics. On Monday, three Jacksonville City Council members voted against it, after state Rep. Lake Ray (who has ties to Georgia-Pacfic) argued that its passage would provide “uncertainty” in the political process.
Armingeon writes that, on June 17, his organization “sent a list of technical questions to the Department of Environmental Regulation that [his group] believe[s] must be answered before a permit decision is made.” The Riverkeeper has also sent thousands of petitions from citizens opposed to the pipeline to Gov. Rick Scott, but has not yet received a reply.

“Despite the lack of support from some of our elected officials, we will continue to seek answers and to hold those accountable for their actions,” writes Armingeon. “The St. Johns River and the communities of Northeast Florida deserve nothing less.”

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