Photo credit: Walter Coker, Georgia-Pacific wastewater treatment ponds

October 5, 2012: On October 4th, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a draft wastewater discharge permit for Georgia-Pacific. 

Written comments can be submitted to Melissa M. Long, P.E, 7777 Baymeadows Way West, Suite 100, Jacksonville, Florida 32256 or by email sent to Public comment will be accepted through November 19, 2012.

A public meeting to review the draft permit and receive public feedback will be held on Tuesday, November 13th at 5:00 p.m.
Price Martin Community Center
220 North 11th Street
Palatka, Florida 32177

Click here to learn more about the meeting and the draft permit on the DEP's website.

We are asking DEP to require the contaminated Georgia-Pacific pond to be isolated from GP's wastestream within 6 months and that additional sampling for dioxin take place after the isolation plan has been completed.  We need to put an end to dioxin dumping in our river, and we need to know that the efforts to do so have been successfully accomplished.

Below is an e-mail released by Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, regarding the draft permit:

For many months, we have been negotiating with DEP and GP to make sure the permit is as protective as possible.

We can say with certainty that this permit is much better today because of the hard work of St. Johns Riverkeeper and the many citizens who have put so much pressure on Governor Scott, the DEP, and GP to do the right thing. We also owe a special thanks to Dr. Quinton White and Dr. Lucinda Sonnenberg for the countless hours of technical expertise and support they have provided.

However, this permit does not go far enough.

After months of intense negotiations, we are pleased to say that GP will finally be required to address its unresolved dioxin problem.

Unfortunately, they are being granted too much time to get it done.

For years, GP has denied that a dioxin problem existed within its wastewater treatment ponds. However, the ponds are the most likely source of the dioxin in its effluent, based on the findings of Dr. Sonnenberg and GP's Legacy Solids Study.

At our insistence, the DEP is now requiring GP to remove the most contaminated portion of the ponds from the wastewater stream, significantly reducing the likelihood that dioxin will continue to be discharged into our river.

But the time-frame DEP has granted to GP to accomplish this critical task is unacceptable. DEP is also allowing GP off the hook by not requiring additional testing to make sure that dioxin is no longer being discharged into the St. Johns. This is the only way that the public can be assured that the problem has been resolved.

We have not given up and still have an opportunity to convince them to do the right thing. During the permit public comment period, we are asking citizens to contact Governor Scott and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard ( Ask them to require the contaminated pond to be isolated from the wastestream within 6 months and that additional sampling for dioxin take place after the isolation plan has been completed.

We need to put an end to dioxin dumping in our river, and we need to know that the efforts to do so have been successfully accomplished.

Here is a timeline of where we have come from and where we now stand:

1947: The Georgia-Pacific (GP) paper mill in Palatka begins operation, discharging its polluted wastewater into Rice Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River.

1993: Sediment and fish samples collected near the Georgia-Pacific (GP) mill outfall in Rice Creek contain elevated levels of dioxin, a known carcinogenic compound.

May 2001: Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to issue a wastewater permit to Georgia-Pacific and authorization for the construction of a pipeline to the St. Johns River.

February & March 2002: An administrative hearing is held in response to a petition by several groups challenging DEP’s intent to issue the permit.

August 2002: After the Administrative Law Judge rules in favor of DEP, the agency issues a wastewater permit to GP and the Administrative Order that includes a compliance schedule for the construction and operation of the pipeline by October of 2012 if the mill cannot meet water quality standards in Rice Creek by that time.

2008: St. Johns Riverkeeper and Clean Water Network of Florida spend over six months negotiating with GP. A study is proposed involving technical experts to identify alternatives to the pipeline. GP decides that it would not abide by the results of a study and ends discussions with the two groups.

Summer 2008: After GP makes upgrades to the mill, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) samples the GP discharge for dioxin using a sensitive sampling technique called high volume sampling, or HVS. The sample collected from the GP effluent contains concentrations “higher than the EPA water quality criterion” for dioxin.

June 2010: Dr. Lucinda Sonnenberg, a highly-regarded chemist hired by DEP, releases a review of the "Georgia-Pacific Palatka Wastewater Treatment Plant Legacy Solids Study." Dr. Sonnenberg concludes that the legacy solids study verifies that dioxins are present in the GP wastewater ponds and are likely "not in the primary solids coming from the mill."

December 2010: We commission an independent peer review of a GP-funded study that GP and DEP use to justify the building of the pipeline.

January 2011: We launch the Cleaner GP awareness campaign to encourage GP to pursue alternative solutions to the pipeline.

February 2011: The results of the peer review indicate that the Georgia-Pacific study is incomplete and does not adequately address important questions regarding the pollution in GP’s wastewater effluent and treatment ponds.

April 2011: Dr. Lucinda Sonennberg releases a draft report indicating that a complete and thorough analysis has not been conducted and serious issues and questions have not been fully resolved.

June 2011: After negotiations with DEP break down and Dr. Sonnenberg's report falls on deaf ears, we hold a rally outside of DEP's Jacksonville offices.

July 2011: We host a public forum to discuss the proposed pipeline and concerns regarding the ongoing pollution problems at the GP mill.

September 2011: Jacksonville City Councilman Jim Love introduces a resolution opposing the issuance of the Georgia-Pacific (GP) discharge permit until all outstanding questions have been answered, including those regarding dioxin. Unfortunately, the resolution is voted down in committee by GP-sympathizers.

December 2011: After we are unable to identify the legal means to stop the pipeline, we turn our attention to ensuring that the effluent going into the river is as clean as possible.

May 2012: After months of intense meetings and negotiations, DEP and GP finally agree to a remediation plan to address the problem with dioxin that will be included in the permit.

While we have not stopped the pipeline, our hard work and persistence have so far resulted in a more protective permit. But, there is more work to be done, and this issue is not over. We will keep up the pressure on DEP and GP and continue to fight to ensure that our river is protected.

We'll keep you posted as we learn more. Thanks for your continued support and commitment. Without you, this important advocacy work would not be possible.

For the River,

Lisa Rinaman
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper