Friends of Perdido Bay
10738 Lillian Highway
Pensacola, FL 32506
Tidings The Newsletter of the Friends of Perdido Bay
April 2002 Volume 15 Number 2 Jackie Lane -Editor
Thanks for Coming
Our last general meeting in March was really a boost. We had approximately 80 people who attended and voiced (sometimes loudly) their opposition to any more wastewater being diverted to Perdido Bay. David Whetstone, attorney general of Baldwin County, Alabama and two ECUA Board members attended and spoke. The media was also present. I think the message is clear - no more wastewater for Perdido Bay.
ECUA has formed a committee to study the relocation of its Mainstreet wastewater plant. Financing for this expensive project is also being investigated. BUT, public talk of diverting this wastewater to Perdido Bay has quieted (maybe only temporarily). Friends of Perdido Bay is trying to follow the progress of this project.
Losing a Friend
Gordon Hillberg, the long-time treasurer of Friends of Perdido Bay, died recently from a heart attack. Gordon always had a good joke or two to liven up our meetings and his Treasurer's reports were accurate. Gordon will be missed. We have lost several members in the past years and many have moved to retirement areas away from the bay. We are hopeful that those of us that are still here and alive will live to see our bay cleaned up.
The clean-up for which we are all waiting is the clean-up of the effluent from the paper mill in Cantonment, Florida owned by International Paper Co. Two years ago, a plan was announced for a joint venture between ECUA (a public entity treating mainly domestic wastewater in Escambia County, FL) and IP. The plan comprised some modification of IP's wastewater treatment system and then piping the wastewater along with the wastewater from ECUA's proposed new treatment plant to a wetland owned by IP. The combined industrial and domestic waste discharge would be into a wetland and not to Perdido Bay.
For us, it is hard to judge the merits of the plan since we have seen no plans or numbers. We do know several things. It appears that one of the reasons this public-private partnership was proposed was to obtain financing for the pipeline through Florida's revolving loan fund. Normally, this fund is used for public projects only, not for private projects. IP will repay the state through payments to ECUA, but use of public funds for private projects is a sweet deal for IP.
Another thing we know is that while this wastewater will be applied to land, it will definitely get into Perdido Bay. The big question is: How much pollution will get into Perdido Bay and what will the impact be? Right now, International Paper has been "grandfathered" in at their present point of discharge. "Grandfathering in" means they do not have to meet newly enacted rules. However, once IP moves its discharge location to wetlands, they will have to meet the new rules - including the antidegredation rule and consideration of their impact on the Perdido River, a Florida outstanding water. In my opinion, IP will have a hard time providing reasonable assurance that their effluent, where ever it is applied, will not continue to harm both Perdido Bay and Perdido River. Water from Perdido Bay enters Perdido River and travels up the river a long way, nearly to Highway 90. Pollution in Perdido Bay therefore enters Perdido River. In moving their discharge location, IP will have to have some studies to show, that their effluent is no longer harming either Perdido Bay or Perdido River.
The announced deadline for commitments to begin this project were originally the end of 2001. However that deadline got pushed back to the end of March 2002. At the end of March 2002, IP was supposed to finalize their agreement with ECUA so that they could get the loan from the state to build the pipeline. IP was also supposed to submit a modified permit application. (Remember: IP has been operating under an administratively continued permit. One permit was supposed to expire in 1988 and one in 1994). To date, no commitment has been announced and no modified permit application has been received. We are waiting. But while we are waiting, we have decided to try a little PR. The signs that we handed out at our meeting, the bumper stickers that we sent in the newsletter, and 60 second messages on the Radio station COOL 107 should keep our plight about a polluted bay before the public. It appears that we do not have enough political clout on Perdido Bay to get our environmental agencies moving.
So Far, So Good
From time to time we like to check up on the operations at the landfill. The landfill is right along the Perdido River. Ten years ago, allegations of pumping landfill leachate into the Perdido River surfaced. There was also some groundwater contamination that was headed in a plume for the Perdido River. The landfill began a program to curtail movement of the plume and clean-up and prevent further contamination. It appears the landfill is running smoothly.
The landfill and Escambia County also have implemented several programs to help citizens dispose of their garbage wisely. The landfill staff has tried to keep hazardous wastes out of the landfill. Good idea. But what are considered hazardous wastes? Paint, pesticides, pool chemicals, household cleaning materials, fingernail polish, oil, antifreeze, roofing material, flares, flourescent light bulbs and rechargeable batteries and more. It seems like we live in a world of hazardous waste. Instead of throwing these materials in your garbage can, you can recycle them at the landfill. The second Saturday of each month, from 8:00 AM to Noon, the landfill accepts all this nasty stuff. Free. Plus you can bring up to two old tires.
Escambia County also has recycling bins at many locations throughout Escambia County for non-hazardous material. Paper and cardboard, plastics, aluminum and glass are collected and transported to the landfill. This recycled material is then resorted, packaged and sent to a supplier.
Escambia County also has a neighborhood clean-up program for the weekends. You can arrange to have large trash items, hazardous wastes, and garages of the elderly in your neighborhood cleaned-out by calling Sandra Slay at 850-595-3530 (Code enforcement). This is such a popular program that weekends are booked through September.
Financially, these programs cost the County and Solid waste Department money. But in the end, the cost now probably will save the County expensive, clean-up costs later on. Plus, keeping the trash out of the landfill, saves landfill space and having to buy land and expand in the future. In spite of the fact that these recycling and hazardous waste programs cost money, Escambia County's landfill makes money and returns a nice profit each year to the county government. This is a public enterprise which appears to be serving the public in a safe, cost effective manner.
It seems that as we develop more and more insight into government regulatory programs, the influence of politics on regulatory programs has become more and more obvious. Back in 1992 we heard the regulators talking about their programs and you either had to get on the train or get off. What was this "train" that regulators were talking about? I have come to believe that this train was protection of our industries by setting government standards for industries that are not particularly stringent, and by stressing economic efficiency over environmental protection.
The paper industry appears to have benefitted greatly from this new initiative. The pollutants which the paper industry is most noted for putting out, Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), Total Suspended Solids (TSS), pH, and fecal coliforms have become "conventional pollutants". The PR coming out of the government is that these pollutants are no longer a problem - "The problem has been solved". As a result, effluent limitations that are placed on these conventional pollutants are only "technology-based effluent limitation". The EPA establishes "technology-based effluent limitations" by picking better preforming industrial plants in the industry and surveying what treatment technology these plants use and what amount of pollution is coming out of these plants. Then they pick average values and make a rule allowing so much pollutants for so many pounds of product produced. These rules, of course, are heavily influenced by politics and the industries themselves. This is how the government arrives at "technology-based limits". Effluent limits based on "technology-based limits" do not take into account the environment at all. You could have an industrial plant, like the paper mill in Cantonment Florida, produce huge amounts of product and discharge into a little creek and bay and it would be allowed the same amount of discharge per ton of paper produced as a small mill located on a large river. The environmental impacts of the two mills would be entirely different, but technology-based limits would not consider those impacts.
Another problem with establishing "technology-based limits" is that there is a disincentive for developing better treatment technology. Who wants to be the shining star in the industry and develop treatment technology which all other mills might have to install? Your popularity, at least among your peers, in the industry would be nil. Using the concept of "technology-based limits" which are dictated by the Clean Water Act has stifled clean-up. Many industrial treatment technologies, including those of the paper industries, lag years behind what is required in other countries as well as behind domestic waste treatment technologies because of "technolgy-based limits".
Now, the current fad in regulatory circles is that "conventional pollutants" which are mainly discharged by the paper industry, are not important. Industries discharging them only have to meet "technology-based effluent limitations". This makes our job of protecting our bay even harder. We say to the government stop this pollution from IP. The government says to us, IP is meeting technology-based effluent limitations. They are meeting the Clean Water Act. But they are also killing our bay. The government says "technology-based effluent limitations" don't consider environmental impacts. Herein lies the problem.
Environmental testing to find the environmental impacts of "conventional pollutants" is also becoming less important or being phased out. Testing for fecal coliform is being replaced by testing for Enterococcus. Where huge amounts of coliform bacteria are found in paper mill effluents, Enterococcus is rare. Indices which show the degradation from smothering by TSS are being replaced by other comparative indices which mask the damage by TSS, a conventional pollutant. The oxygen-consuming properties of material put out by paper mills (BOD) is being downplayed by the requirement that oxygen of a water body be tested throughout the year. (Oxygen rarely falls to problem levels in the winter). And on an on.
Fortunately for us, a few good rules passed years ago, are still on the books. We will have to use these rules to prevail in the courts. In the meantime, government agencies continue with their protection campaign directed by appointees friendly to industrial polluters.