GP Palatka paper mill and Rice Creek, credit: Walter Coker

October 21, 2011: As you may know, Jacksonville City Council member Jim Love recently introduced a resolution to Council opposing the issuance of the Georgia-Pacific (GP) wastewater discharge permit until all outstanding questions have been answered, including those regarding dioxin.

On Monday, October 17th, the resolution (2011-607) went before the City Council Transportation, Energy & Utilities CommitteeClick here to access video of the meeting.  

Unfortunately, the vote ended in a 3-3 tie, and the resolution will have to come back before the committee in November. We are grateful to Council members Jim Love, Greg Anderson and Kimberly Daniels for voting for our river. We are disappointed that Council members Richard Clark, Don Redman, and Johnny Gaffney voted against Love's sensible resolution. Representative Lake Ray also attended the meeting and sided with GP and the pipeline.

Councilman Robin Lumb is a member of the committee but did not attend the meeting.  Click here for a list of City Council members and their contact information.

The bottom line is that valid concerns and questions regarding dioxin and other pollution problems at the Palatka mill have not been answered or adequately addressed by GP or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

In 2008, samples found elevated levels of dioxin that exceeded EPA safe levels. As a result, the FDEP issued a letter order on June 1, 2009 that required another round of testing. According to the letter, "The EPA HVS dioxin results now call into question whether GP has fully optimized its new process technologies….Therefore, the following additional corrective actions are necessary for GP to fully comply with the AO….GP shall conduct, or provide funding to the Department to conduct, an additional dioxin HVS sampling event." Those tests have yet to take place.

Earlier this year, St. Johns Riverkeeper hired Dr. Bob Hayes, a chemical engineer, to do a peer review of the Brown and Caldwell study (B&C), an alternatives analysis commissioned by GP that has been used to justify the pipeline. Hayes found significant technical errors in the B&C study and strongly recommends a more comprehensive chemical engineering analysis of the mill and its entire waste stream. Click here for a summary of the peer review or here for the full report

Hayes, has over 50 years of experience in the pulp and paper industry, and has worked with numerous mills throughout the country to help them successfully resolve their wastewater pollution problems with a variety of alternative strategies. So, we know there are alternatives that have worked and could work for GP.

FDEP hired Dr. Lucinda Sonnenberg, a highly regarded chemist at Jacksonville University, to provide technical expertise the agency needed to help with the evaluation of the Brown and Caldwell study and the wastewater discharge permit.

Key documents from Dr. Sonnenberg are as follows:

Dr. Hayes and Dr. Sonnenberg independently came to the same conclusion. They both conclude that ongoing pollution problems at the mill have not been adequately evaluated or addressed and must be resolved before a permit decision is made.

Based on the findings of these two experts, St. Johns Riverkeeper submitted a series of technical questions to FDEP on June 17. We have not yet received a formal response with answers to those questions.  Click here to read the letter and our questions.

St. Johns Riverkeeper has also sent three letters to Governor Scott this year expressing our concerns. The most recent letter on September 12th included nearly 4,000 petitions that we have collected from citizens opposed to the pipeline. We are still waiting for a reply from the Governor.

The bottom line is that ongoing pollution problems, such as dioxin, have not been adequately addressed (and will not be resolved by the pipeline), and important technical questions regarding pollutants remain unanswered.

Jacksonville and the communities downstream of the mill have little if anything to gain from the pipeline and everything to lose. St. Johns Riverkeeper and Councilman Love are simply asking FDEP, the Governor and other elected officials to make absolutely sure that the pipeline and GP's effluent will not cause harm to the St. Johns River or the communities of Northeast Florida.

Pollution adversely impacts our economy, hurting businesses (marinas, kayak outfitters, fishing guides, realtors, boat dealers, restaurants, hotels, etc.), costing jobs, impacting human health, reducing property values and our tax base, and diminishing recreational opportunities.

There is too much at stake to simply ignore the outstanding questions that remain regarding dioxin and other pollution problems at the GP mill.