Friends of Perdido Bay
10738 Lillian Highway
Pensacola, FL 32506
Tidings The Newsletter of the Friends of Perdido Bay
April 2001 Volume 14 Number 2 Jackie Lane -Editor
Next General Meeting - May 15, 2001
Our next general meeting is scheduled for May 15, 2001. The meeting will be at the Lillian Community Club starting at 7:00 PM. Escambia County Utilities Authority (ECUA) and possibly IP will be speaking to us about their joint waste treatment effort. This is the plan where ECUA, is going to build a new waste treatment plant in mid-Escambia County. IP is going to upgrade their wastewater treatment system. And then together, they are going to dispose of their waste in a wetland/upland area south of the mill between Eleven Mile Creek and Perdido Bay. To date there are many uncertainties. However by May 15th many of the details will have been filled in. In late April, ECUA and IP are going to sign an agreement to commit to the clean-up. This will be a huge step toward cleaning up Perdido Bay. We hope. Please come and hear the latest version plus ask questions.
No Hearing on April 9th - A Settlement was Reached
Hopefully, many of you were planing on attending the Administrative Hearing on the Consent Order which was supposed to take place in Pensacola. The hearing was scheduled April 9th through April 12th, but it has been canceled. The hearing was canceled because we have reached an agreement on the Consent Order. The Florida DEP withdrew the "long" Consent Order which had some very dangerous language and replaced it with a "short" Consent Order which only fined IP $138,000. The DEP fined IP only for violations which occurred at the end of IP's pipeline, i.e. the violations which IP reported. All the other violations have yet to be resolved. The "short" Consent Order had no other dangerous language which may have been construed to be a permit and did not refer at all to any permit limits. We thought that this was a good settlement and decided not to proceed further. We considered the settlement a victory.
During the period in which we were litigating, we reviewed some of IP's documents and questioned one of their employees. We will be reporting on what we found out in the next several newsletters.
Some Back-Room Deals
While the ECUA-IP clean-up plan continues to simmer, there appears to be some attempts to loosen regulations further on Perdido Bay. (Can they get any looser?) These behind the scenes maneuverings look like back room deals.
One of those deals is trying to remove Perdido Bay from Florida's impaired waters list. If there was ever a water body that is impaired, Perdido Bay ought to be right at the top of the list. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is currently trying to pass a rule which will identify which bodies of water are impaired and which are not. Water bodies which are listed as "impaired" will then have studies done to determine what loading of pollutants they can safely handle. This is called TMDL's or Total Maximum Daily Loads. Enough loopholes have been written into the "determination of impaired water bodies" rule to take Perdido Bay off the list. We are challenging that rule. We will fight to keep Perdido Bay on the list of impaired water bodies. If Perdido Bay comes off the list, we will have less environmental protection than we now have. But more important, if a TMDL is done for Perdido Bay, the result would probably show that very little or NO pollutants could safely be dumped into Perdido Bay.
Oddly, Alabama does not consider Perdido Bay "impaired". Alabama does very little sampling in Perdido Bay (Florida doesn't do any either, any more). We sent ADEM the September 2000 Livingston Report that was done on Perdido Bay. Alabama has stubbornly refused to accept Dr. Livingston's conclusions that the paper mill has ruined the food chain in Perdido Bay and that life on the bottom, in the deeper areas, is gone. ADEM's reply to our letters was that they would not put Perdido Bay on the "impaired waters" list this year, but would review the situation in two more years.
Another unsettling deal is the apparent attempt by Florida DEP to quietly raise the permit limits. Recently, IP requested to have the Champion permits transferred to IP. This is an ordinary procedure, nothing to get worried about. But in DEP's letter granting the transfer, they included a form with the permits limits from the old 1983 St. Regis permit. Nowhere in the letter did DEP mention the more stringent limits from the 1987 Temporary Operation permit. The 1987 limits were only supposed to be temporary until even more stringent limits were instituted at the end of 1994. 1994 has come and gone. When I talked to a DEP spokesperson about why the 1987 limits were not mentioned, they told me that the 1987 permit was referred to in the letter. But this looks fishy.
The whole situation is almost comical. The 1987 permit was only temporary and should have expired in 1994. The 1983 permit to St. Regis most certainly has expired. The order combining the state and the federal permit expired before it was even signed. So, I think the paper mill is operating on very shaky legal grounds. Maybe it is time to resolve this issue once and for all.
A Possible Explanation
After the winter of 1999/2000, the grass beds which had been flourishing in Upper Perdido Bay never came back. The grasses lose their leaves in the winter just like deciduous trees, but the leaves (fronds) grow back in the spring. Grass beds which had been growing for 30 years over by the Lillian Swamp, and which had been protected by the Perdido River, died. Clams died in the Spring of 2000 and never came back. All of this was reported to the Florida DEP. These disasters were caused by more than a one-time spill. After a one-time spill, a recovery usually occurs. This is no one-time spill.
In December 2000, IP invited me up to talk about their possible improvements and show me their treatment system. I had not seen their treatment system since 1992. I was shocked to see the low level of aeration in their main aeration pond. Matter of fact, there were men in a boat in the main aeration pond. This could never have occurred when I saw the pond before. The aeration pond is where the biological treatment of the paper mill wastes occur. Aeration, through agitation, is necessary to provide oxygen for the bacteria to grow which break down the paper mill wastes. Aeration is very important to decrease the toxicity of paper mill effluent and maintain the proper permit limits. A second treatment pond is partially aerated.
I obtained aerial photographs of the mill's two aeration ponds in November 1993, February 1997 and February 2000. When I compared the level of aeration in the main aeration pond between 1997 and 2000, the difference was striking (See photos below). In 1997, aeration was about 3 times more than in 2000. There were the same number of aerators, but the level of aeration was far greater in 1997. Things started to add up. As the price of energy went up, and the price of paper went down, the paper mill had to cut costs some where. Providing energy to run the aerators is costly. Cutting the amount of energy going to the aerators would definitely save money.
But at what cost to us? The amount of aeration that is needed to properly treat paper mill wastes depends on the level of production. The more production with less aeration would produce greater toxicity and less treatment. I know from examining their records that IP began to have trouble with accumulation of solids in their treatment system. The solids did not settle well because the biological treatment system was not getting enough oxygen. One of the reasons for the Consent Order was to try and make IP deal with their solids problem, and not just allow the solids to spill out into Eleven Mile Creek and Perdido Bay. They put a continuous dredge into their second aeration pond to suck out the solids. But what about the toxicity? They have been passing their toxicity tests. You can always turn the aerators up for several days before you run the tests to decrease the toxicity. We have decided that running frequent toxicity tests on the paper mill effluent at various intervals is probably necessary. We are gearing up for this next initiative. The environmental agencies do not regulate the level of aeration, only the toxicity of the effluent. If we find the effluent toxic, this would be a violation of standards and we could try and collect fines. One thing is certain, the environmental agencies are not going to look for toxicity.
Photos of aeration in Treatment Pond #1 - February 1997 and 2000