A group of citizens whose lives and quality of lives are at risk are preparing to file suit against the Florida Board of Trustees over a plan by the Koch Brothers/Georgia-Pacific paper mill to start dumping up to 47 million gallons of papermill waste per day in the river. The Trustees have done nothing to consider, much less halt, this assault on Florida’s submerged lands the Trustees are sworn to protect.

A notice letter and copy of the draft Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the Florida Supreme Court was delivered to the Governor and Cabinet members (Board of Trustees – BOT) on Wednesday, giving them 15 days to resolve the issue without litigation. That would mean committing to consideration of the mixing zones as requiring a private easement.

The decision could be made at a later point as to whether the Trustees would grant such an easement. Right now the Petitioners are simply seeking the Trustees’ agreement that they will require an easement for the mixing zones and require a full analysis for contrariness to the public interest, and otherwise meeting BOT statutes and rules, including equitable compensation if allowed at all.  They will also need to promise that the BOT will not allow the discharge without the Koch Brothers/Georgia-Pacific obtaining such an easement, which it has not done so far.

“We love the river and its wildlife and rely on it for food and recreation,” said Karen Ahlers, a resident of Putnam County and a plaintiff in the case.  “This pipeline would be like 10 to18 BP spills (by volume) a day all day every day forever!”

Georgia-Pacific, now privately owned by the fabulously wealthy and politically connected Koch brothers, told FDEP that it would be too expensive to clean up their wastes. They got permission from Florida DEP to dump the effluent into the river via a 5-mile long pipe, using a legal loophole called a ‘mixing zone’. In effect, this is a zone that will never again meet fishable/swimmable standards but instead be devoted to diluting the mill’s waste stream.

The Florida DEP and Koch brothers/Georgia-Pacific may not have told the trustees the whole truth about the extent of the damage the pipeline’s waste ‘gusher’ will spew. The purpose of the lawsuit is to make sure the Trustees fully consider if they should allow the submerged lands of the St Johns to be the recipient of a never-ending stream of up to 47 million gallons per day of toxic, dark, odiferous effluent, when affordable and proven alternatives exist.

 “The Trustees have a unique responsibility to the people of Florida and we are convinced that once they understand all the facts they will conclude that the pipeline is contrary to the public interest and take action to stop the discharge,” said Neil Armingeon who is also a plaintiff.

““The young people who could inadvertently enter the water near the pipeline would be exposed to any number of chemicals and other harmful substances,” said Bill Hamilton, of the Environmental Youth Council.  “The fish that are caught near this part of the river will be affected by the toxic condition that the Koch Bros/Georgia-Pacific pollution pipe will create,” Hamilton said.

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About the Author

Linda Young has been the executive director of the Clean Water Network of Florida since 1994. From 1989 to 1997, she founded and published a monthly statewide environmental newspaper. Over the past twenty three years, she has co-founded some of the most long-lasting and effective environmental organizations in the Southeast, including the Gulf Restoration Network, Gulf Coast Environmental Defense and C.A.T.E. She holds a B.A. in Communications from Southern Oregon University and a M.A. in Political Science/Campaign Management from the University of West Florida.



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