Is Georgia-Pacific (GP) violating its permit and further endangering our river? Based on the results of monitoring, significant biological changes have occurred in the St. Johns River since Georgia-Pacific started discharging its effluent directly into the St. Johns River in 2012. Unfortunately, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has not required GP to continue monitoring and has done little to determine the cause or source of the problem.
In 2012, the Georgia-Pacific (GP) paper mill in Palatka received a controversial permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to relocate its wastewater discharge from Rice Creek into the middle of the St. Johns River.
As a condition of its permit, GP had to conduct an extensive biological survey to analyze the effect of the relocation of its effluent into the river. GP contracted with Dr. Tim Gross and Environmental Resource Consultants to complete the survey.
A report released by Gross and his team indicates that a significant decline in biodiversity of macroinvertebrates (very small organisms like worms and crustraceans) has occurred since the discharge was relocated into the river. More subtle shifts in the diversity and abundance of other types of organisms were also reported, as well. While the report does not single out GP as the cause, Dr. Gross says that the “discharge relocation cannot be ruled out as a source of variance.”
However, Georgia-Pacific's permit includes a benchmark for assessing adverse impacts that has been surpassed. If a 25% or greater decrease in the biological integrity for macroinvertebrate communities occurred after the pipeline was turned on, then DEP should require a continuation of the monitoring. The data clearly demonstrates that this benchmark was surpassed.
Unfortunately, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has failed to enforce the conditions of the permit by requiring more monitoring or take action to get to the bottom of the significant biological shift that has taken place.
Dr. Gross also asserts that GP put pressure on him to remove any recommendations in his report calling for more monitoring.
In an apparent attempt to avoid more monitoring, GP brought in Frydenborg EcoLogic (Frydenborg Report) to complete a second report summarizing the results of the study. Frydenborg concluded that the biological changes that occurred were not caused by GP and additional monitoring was not necessary.
According to Dr. Gross, the Frydenborg Report “utilizes an incomplete dataset to apply biases and inappropriate analyses to enable predetermined outcomes and conclusions” and give the appearance that GP is “trying to hide something.”
The dredging and water withdrawal proposals only stand to make matters worse. The dredging will increase water flow to the south as more saltwater enters the river, increasing the residency time of GP's effluent near Palatka. Surface water withdrawals will further increase exposure concentrations. Both will increase the risk to biological communities that are exposed to the paper mill's discharge.
Help us hold FDEP and GP accountable!
Contact FDEP and tell them to stop ignoring the data and require GP to continue the monitoring immediately.
FDEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs
Additional monitoring is the only way to get to the bottom of what is responsible for the decline in biodiversity that has occurred in the St. Johns since the relocatation of GP's wastewater.
Thank you for helping us hold their feet to the fire!