Friends of Perdido Bay
10738 Lillian Highway
Pensacola, FL 32506
Tidings The Newsletter of the Friends of Perdido Bay
December 2007 Volume 20 Number 6 Jackie Lane -Editor
Thank you for your support
We continue to receive your donations, letters of support and help when we need letters written to our elected officials. We have a few members who have been members since Friends of Perdido Bay was founded in 1988. We have had several members and board members die since our founding. Unfortunately those members will never see Perdido Bay as it should be -a bay with sparkling waters and a clean sandy bottom, full of life, a gift from God. Many of us are very hopeful that we will live to see Perdido Bay clean.
So, we enter 2008 with hope that this will be the year Perdido Bay will become clean and our government will do its job and enforce the environmental rules. In the meantime, thanks for the support. If you feel generous, Friends of Perdido Bay is a not-for-profit organization and will accept donations which you can claim as donations on your income tax. Our treasury currently has about $3,500. We would like to increase our war chest in case we have to go back to another
The current situation
The permit for the IP paper mill is in limbo. The proposed permit allowing IP to discharge their effluent to a wetland has been denied due to our successful challenge of the permit and the state’s upholding the denial. However, IP asked for and got a stay of the execution of the denial pending appeal with the First District Court of Appeal. This means IP can continue to operate until the appellate court makes its decision, which could be several years. IP’s arguments as to why the court should overturn the denial are due December 15, 2007.
In the meantime, IP has also made another application for a permit to DEP. The new application contains basically the same plan as the previous application which was turned down. However IP has added some new language to make their discharge to the wetland appear less harmful. In my opinion, we can easily refute IP’s claim that they are not going to harm the wetlands (see following article). In the new permit application, IP has added a few more parameters for which they are asking for alterative criteria from the state rules. What this means is that IP can not meet the current state criteria and is asking for alternative criteria. Alternative criteria are simply “loopholes” which the state would probably grant, except that we will take DEP and IP to a hearing if they do.
Whether or not IP has a “valid” permit with which to operate is a matter for discussion. According to Florida state law and Federal Clean Water rules, a discharger’s permit does not expire until the agency acts on a permit application, provided the application for a new permit was timely. Well, way back in 1994 and 1995, Champion (the old owners of the mill) did make a “timely” application for a new permit. It took DEP until 2004 to finally act on the permit application. Of course DEP planned to give IP a permit until we went to a hearing and got the permit denied. So, if you follow the rules, technically, the environmental agency has acted on the permit application; it was denied and IP has no permit to operate. The new permit application which IP submitted after the hearing in 2006, can not be considered a “timely” application. It does not count. Therefore, if the above reasoning stands, IP is operating illegally. Who cares? We do. We are going to see if we can get some clarification from the environmental agencies about this issue.
Dirty, Industrial Effluent
The Florida rule which DEP is allowing IP to use in the permit application for exemptions from meeting water quality standards is called “Experimental Use of Wetlands for Low-Energy Water and Wastewater Recycling”. As IP’s own consultant testified at the hearing, the rule was written over 20 years ago when the state of Florida was looking at allowing domestic waste to be discharged to wetlands. After years of experimenting with discharging domestic wastes to wetlands (there were some successful and some unsuccessful experiments), Florida wrote a rule which domestic dischargers must follow if they want to discharge to wetlands. The Bayou Marcus domestic wastewater treatment plant, which discharges to wetlands along Perdido Bay, must follow these rules and effluent limitations. But what is important, the domestic waste must be tertiary treated. In other words, the effluent can have no more than 5 mg/liter of total suspended solids, 5 mg/liter of oxygen consuming chemicals (BOD), 3 mg/liter of total nitrogen, and 1 mg/liter of total phosphorus.
How does the effluent which IP proposed to discharge to the wetlands compare with the
domestic wastewater limits? IP proposed to discharge an effluent which has a concentration of
23 mg/liter BOD and 41 mg/liter total suspended solids. This Total Suspended Solids limit is 8
times more concentrated than domestic waste. There was no limit in IP’s proposed permit for
total nitrogen and total phosphorus. This difference in concentration of IP’s effluent vs domestic
waste becomes even more significant or obvious when you factor in the total pounds per day
discharged to the environment by multiplying concentration times flow (this is referred to as “total
loading”). The graph on the next page compares a domestic waste water treatment plant
discharging 20 million gallons of effluent a day which would treat the wastes from 165,000
people with IP’s discharge using a flow of 23 million gallons of water a day. IP would be
discharging 4,500 pounds of BOD per day. A domestic wastewater plant serving 165,000 people
(like the new mid county ECUA plant near Solutia) would only be discharging 844 pounds of
BOD per day. For total suspended solids, the total pounds per day from a domestic plant would be 844 and from IP total pounds per day would be 8,000. Let me also add that the limits for IP are only the “monthly average limits”. There is a daily maximum limit in the rejected IP permit which is double the daily average. I am sure that the daily maximum loading values were exceeded during the heavy rains on October 18th. So, is this a no “brainer” or what? IP’s effluent definitely needs more treatment. However we are very doubtful that IP will add more treatment to their effluent treatment system. They will probably try and get away with less.
People call us up and tell us different things about what IP is doing or what IP intends to do. Most of the time we are not able to verify these rumors and just let the rumor go. But recently we were told that IP wants to turn off their treatment system. This means that they no longer want to pay for the energy which it takes to treat their effluent. There is one very large pond (20 acres) at the mill which has 20 or so aerators which keep the oxygen level high enough so that the organic material in the effluent is broken down. This requires a lot of energy, most of which is generated at the mill in power boilers. The boilers burn coal mixed with wood. If IP were to turn off the aerators in their ponds, the BOD and TSS numbers which are in the above graph would sky-rocket. It would be a total disaster for any body of water receiving such a polluted load. We have asked several people at the environmental agency if they know anything about this rumor. People have told us that they have heard this rumor but there has been no official word. My husband and I keep debating this subject. Would DEP allow IP to turn off their aerators? My husband says DEP would not go this far and allow IP to turn off aerators. I say, yes they would. In today’s global economy, I believe anything is possible. The US will let these industries which are left here in this county do any thing. But it certainly is not beyond my wildest imagination to think that IP might just decide to pull enough political strings and save themselves a lot of overhead costs and turn off their aerators. I hope not.
On the day and night of our general meeting, October 18, 2007, we had over 12" of rain in 24 hours. For several days after this rain, the water in the bay was black in the upper end at our beach. Several people reported red water. The DEP people told me that they received complaints from Perdido Bay citizens about bad foam and nasty water. The swamps, low-laying lands, and parking lots were definitely washed by this deluge. IP’s ponds were also probably cleaned out. IP has a total of 1300 acres which drain into their ponds. Normally IP discharges 23 million gallons of water a day. However when it rains on these ponds, their discharge increases a lot. Using simple engineering calculations, a 1.7" rainfall in one day would increase IP’s flow to 53 million gallons of effluent that day. A 12" rainfall - well, you can do the math. With this much flow through their ponds, material which has settled in these ponds will be swooshed out. The total suspended solids would increase dramatically and the normal 3-day treatment time would probably decrease to a matter of hours. During such events it is unlikely that IP is measuring their effluent characteristics. But even if they exceeded their daily maximum, their permit covers events like a 12" rainfall. These events are called “acts of God” and permit limits do not apply during such events. It is during these “acts of God” that large amounts of material are washed into Perdido Bay.
It’s about time
In 1972, the Clean Water Act was revised to include regulation of the discharge from point sources. Point sources are “those where the pollutant flows from a discrete source”, such as a pipe. The Clean Water Act states very clearly that no permit may be issued to a new discharger if the discharge will contribute to violation of water quality standards. Similarly, if a water body is “impaired” and not meeting standards, no permit may be issued to a new discharger unless there is a remedy to bring the water body into compliance.
It appears that this great language which is in the Clean Water Act and mirrored in the rules which the states adopted, has been ignored for many years. Similar to our case on Perdido Bay, many other state agencies have been issuing permits to polluters knowing those permit were going to cause and contribute to violations in water quality standards. Recently (October 4, 2007) an opinion was issued by the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals for a case involving a permit issued to a copper mining company in Arizona in 2000. The permit was challenged by environmental groups. This appellate court which is considered liberal, recognized that the 1972 revisions of the Clean Water Act sought to restore the environmental quality of the nation’s waters. Permits could be issued to discharge into an “impaired water body”, only if there was a remedy to bring the water body into compliance with water quality standards. This was not done in the case of the Arizona Copper Mine nor has it been done for IP on Perdido Bay. IP is not seeking to restore Perdido Bay but only to change the standard. This ruling by the appellate court should help our case.
Have a wonderful holiday season