Friends of Perdido Bay
10738 Lillian Highway
Pensacola, FL 32506
Tidings The Newsletter of the Friends of Perdido Bay
February 2007 Volume 20 Number 1 Jackie Lane -Editor
Waiting for the Proposed Order
It appears that decisions which are settled in the Courts can take years to finally reach a conclusion. Sometimes, decisions are never concluded. In the case of International Paper’s NPDES permit to operate their wastewater treatment system, the years seem to be creeping along without any conclusion to IP’s dilemma. They continue to operate on a permit which expired in December 1994. While there are those who say that IP will just continue to operate even if they do not receive their permit, a high-ranking IP employee has told us that they will NOT invest the $200 million to convert the Cantonment mill from white to brown paper unless they have a valid permit to operate their wastewater treatment system (this permit is called an NPDES permit). IP has stated publically that they expect to have their NPDES permit by April of this year. April 2007 is when IP plans to start their conversion to brown paper. This means that IP expects the administrative law judge to rule in IP’s favor. Perhaps political pressure will sway the administrative judge, but we think we presented a very good case.
Even if the administrative judge issues his recommended order in the next several weeks, there is no way IP will have an uncontested permit by April. After the Recommended Order is issued, all parties have 15 days to submit written exceptions to the Recommended Order. The Recommended Order with exceptions is submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection, which then has 15 days to issue a Final Order (30 days so far). Within 30 days after issuance of the Final Order, the Final Order may be appealed to the appellate Court (60 days) From past experience, the appellate Courts can take months or years to make a final decision. If the administrative law judge and the Department of Environmental Protection rules against us, we will take our case to the appellate Courts. If IP loses, we are sure that they will go through the appeals process. So either way, a final decision on IP’s permit is not imminent, certainly not by April or May.
In the meantime, IP continues to make white paper, perhaps at a reduced rate. After listening to IP’s fourth quarter earnings report (on the internet), I concluded that the market for white paper in the U.S. is very weak. The demand for copy paper has fallen and the competition from foreign-made paper has managed to keep the price of white paper low. Combined with low prices, the cost of making white paper is higher due to the price of wood, chemicals, labor, energy and environmental concerns. IP uses both hard woods and soft woods (pine) to make the white paper. IP has run out of a local supply of hardwoods and is importing eucalyptus chips from their Brazilian plantations. This is most likely costing more than buying hardwoods locally. The net result is a very small profit margin for the white paper. So the sooner IP can convert to a more profitable paper, like cardboard, the better off financially the company will be.
I have often wondered why IP would invest a substantial amount of money at a mill which has a history of environmental problems. The Champion engineers told us that they knew there were environmental problems when they took over the mill in Cantonment Florida. Well, the only answer I can come up with is that the paper companies must have gotten lots of assurances from the local, elected officials that there would be no environmental problems. Wink, Wink. Too bad no body ever asked us.
Uninformed, Misinformed and maybe even Deluded
Several months ago, I was talking to a person about the problems in Perdido Bay. I was telling them that the major problem in Perdido Bay came from the paper mill. It discharges thousands of pounds of decaying matter which uses up the oxygen in the bay. Along with the decaying matter, there are also hundreds of pounds of chemicals and heavy metals, much of which comes from the washing of the ash out of the power boilers. Of course I had just sat through hours and hours of expert testimony by IP personnel and state biologists. The person I was talking to said, “no it not the paper mill but our septic tanks and storm water which has hurt Perdido Bay. The paper mill is regulated by the environmental agencies, but our septic tanks and storm water are not. The environmental agencies would not allow the paper mill to harm our bay.” This is an example of a person who has been deluded. Something like Congress and the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
I thought back many years to a discussion I had with one of the Champion people, Janet Price. She told me “the truth is only what people perceive the truth to be” . At that time, I thought this was a rather perverted way of thinking - I thought people were smarter than that. People are only smarter, if they are aware of most of the facts and informed. If people are presented no facts, or are given lies to look like facts then their opinions will be faulty.
The misinformation campaign was directed in our area. During the mid-nineties, the local news media carried many stories about the harmful effects of storm water runoff . In the Pensacola News Journal, story after story described the environmental woes of Bayou Texar - it was doggie do-do from the streets, old septic tanks, run-off from development in the Bayou Texar watershed. Then, there was Little Sabine Bay and its problems with leaky sewer lines, boats. The DEP began a total watershed analysis and a non-point source program. The word was- “Point source polluters, like industries, were no longer problems”. Well, maybe that is true in areas which do not have industries, but not in our area.
Many people were swayed by these articles. The articles which were not written were articles about how badly polluted our air and waters were. In EPA surveys, Escambia County’s air pollution is the 8th worst of over 3,000 counties in the U.S. The water pollution is nearly as bad. And this pollution is coming from point source polluters. The big three air polluters in our county are Gulf Power, International Paper, and Solutia. As I sat in Court and listened to biologists described Perdido Bay as the most polluted bay in North Florida, I thought, “isn’t this news?”. This pollution comes nearly entirely from the paper mill. Effects of septic tanks and storm water run off, if any, are masked by the huge contribution from the paper mill. Friends of Perdido Bay’s expert environmental engineer calculated that IP’s effluent was the equivalent of 19,000 septic tanks dumping directly into the bay without even going through the drain fields. Of course, information from the administrative hearing was not “news”. There were no reporters, no media, no nothing at the 11 days of hearing. This information was not reported - it was non-news.
The most recent information about the paper mill which was reported in the financial section of the Pensacola News Journal concerned IP’s conversion to brown paper. In that article, the use of wetlands was described as a way of “filtering” the pollutants from the IP effluent. As testimony from the administrative hearing showed, this filtering only works under certain conditions. One, the effluent must be low in plant-promoting nutrients, and two, the plants which do growth in the wetlands must be harvested. If these conditions are not met, the wetland will begin to “export” additional pollution, which can make the situation worse instead of better. IP’s planned disposal met neither condition. Of course, the news article did not report that IP’s wetland plan was going to promote plant growth which was not going to be harvested. So the idea of wetland filtering is an example of “misinformation” or rather partial information which can lead to a faulty conclusion. Some Perdido Bay members contacted the Pensacola News Journal about running an article giving our side of the story. The News Journal said “not until the administrative judge has issued his proposed order”. In the meantime, I have written a “ViewPoint” article giving our side of the story. It has not yet been published.
The major Alabama newspapers are equally, if not more so, silent about the pollution on Perdido Bay. Fifteen years ago, the bay would be filled with shrimpers during shrimp season. Today there are none. The Chambers of Commerce only want to promote the positive. Don’t let the people know how bad the water is or how good it could be. Those people who remember Perdido Bay ten, twenty, fifty years ago, will vanish and with them the knowledge of how productive and beautiful a bay can be. People are deluded into thinking our environmental agencies are protecting our common resources. This is the reason for this newsletter - a least it can give you some additional facts which the mainstream media doesn’t want you to know.
A Fluid Situation
In several of our past newsletters, we have reported about the TMDL program. TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load. This program is administrated by the state environmental agencies and it is supposed to look at all sources of pollution into a water body. If the water body is not meeting state standards for certain criteria, the water body is termed “impaired” for certain pollutants. A TMDL determination is then done for that water body for those pollutants to determine how much pollutants a water body can take without being impaired. So the first step is getting the water body listed as “impaired” for certain pollutants. It doesn’t sound too hard, does it? It is.
Florida developed a rule to determine how to identify “impairment”. It is a very complex rule with a few big loop holes which served to exempt certain impaired waters. With this rule, Florida had many waters which were not meeting state standards but which were not listed as “impaired”. The rule was then challenged in Court, and a judge ordered Florida to change their rule. Because of the change in the rule, more data had to be analyzed. Some water bodies which were “not impaired” under the old rule became “impaired” under the new, changed rule. If this sounds like a lot of political hocus-pocus, you are right. Anyhow, Perdido Bay originally was listed as “impaired” for mercury in fish. But with the new analysis, Perdido Bay is most likely going to be listed as “impaired” for dissolved oxygen and even fecal coliforms in Florida. We don’t know what is going to happen in Alabama. “Most likely impaired for dissolved oxygen” was the term the DEP employee who over sees the TMDL project used. A TMDL is now under way for Perdido Bay and should be completed by the end of the summer. With all the political maneuvering, I don’t know if a valid determination will come out of this exercise or not. It is ridiculous that so much money is spent to skew information.
The lawsuit against the Baldwin County Sewer Plant
Recently, Friends of Perdido Bay has heard horror stories about the sewage treatment plant at Spanish Cove, AL. Originally this plant was built and maintained by the Spanish Cove Properties Owners Association. I visited the sewage plant when Spanish Cove owned the plant. It appeared to be a well-run plant. The design is based on an oxidation ditch design which is known as a good treatment technology. The plant has a permit to discharge to the ground. After filtering (that word again) through the ground, the effluent seeps out into a stream/wetland running along the south side of Spanish Cove and into Perdido Bay.
Several years ago, Spanish Cove Property owners decided to sell the plant to a private company, Baldwin County Sewer. It was after the sale to this private firm that we began to hear the horror stories. The rates went up. People were forced to hook on to the sewer plant by a county ordinance, even though their properties were suitable for septic tank. There were incidents of broken pipes, and overflowing sewage. Several people filed a lawsuit against the Baldwin County Sewer. According to one of those people, the case against the owners of the sewer plant is open and shut. Lots of evidence of poor management of the plant. According to the plaintiffs, they want the plant fixed. Rumor has it that Baldwin County Sewer wants to sell the Spanish Cove plant back to Baldwin County. This appears to be pattern. Public utilities are privatized. The private company has no competition. It has a sure body of rate payers. The private company runs the utility for awhile, usually making large profits. And then sells the utility company back to public interests, usually for a big profit. It is a sure winner, if you can raise the cash to buy the utility. Anyhow, we hope it gets fixed.