Paper giant Georgia-Pacific and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection traded heated letters last week, as the two sides debated the details of the construction of a controversial pipeline that will reroute much of Georgia-Pacific’s effluent from Rice Creek into the much larger St. Johns River.

The decision to construct a pipeline was the result of a 1994 application from Georgia-Pacific to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that sought a permit to allow the company to relocate their existing wastewater discharge. In May 2001, the department issued the mill both a permit and an administrative order authorizing the “construction and operation of a pipeline to discharge the Mill wastewater into the St. Johns River only if Georgia-Pacific demonstrates that it cannot meet Class II water quality standards in Rice Creek.”

A Nov. 22, 2010 letter from Georgia-Pacific Vice President Gary Frost expressed concerns regarding compliance with the administrative order, which requires that the pipeline be installed by Oct. 15, 2012:

Construction of the pipeline is a complex undertaking requiring many activities. … Accordingly, the Administrative Order granted Georgia-Pacific a 27-month timeframe to complete construction of the pipeline. The Department was aware that the submission of the final Rice Creek Water Quality Report on July 15th triggered the October 15, 2012 , deadline to install the pipeline, and that undue delay could jeopardize Georgia-Pacific’s ability to meet the construction deadline. In order to meet the October 15, 2012 deadline … Georgia-Pacific intends to begin the pipeline construction project immediately.

In a letter sent on Dec. 1, the department issued a scathing response, essentially saying that Georgia-Pacific could construct the pipeline, but was not authorized to use it to discharge the company’s effluent:

While a permit is not required for the construction related activities … you are not authorized to use the pipeline to discharge wastewater until you have obtained proper wastewater permitting authorizations from the Department.

Greg Strong, district director of the Department of Environmental Protection, went on to say that Georgia-Pacific’s wastewater permit renewal application is still under review:

As we have already advised your representatives in multiple conversations, questions remain whether GP has fully demonstrated that its discharge cannot meet applicable water quality standards in Rice Creek. Under the terms of the [Administrative Order] and teh administratively continued wastewater permit, relocation of GP’s discharge from Rice Creek to the St. Johns River is contingent on your making this demonstration.

Strong ended the letter by saying that the department “does not agree” that Georgia-Pacific has fully complied with all the requirements named in the administrative order: “GP must satisfactorily resolve these questions before the Department can take action on the NPDES wastewater permit renewal.”

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