The St. Johns Riverkeeper’s Neil Armingeon reached out to the Jacksonville Waterways Commission more than five months ago, expressing concerns with inflated cost estimates associated with the implementation of a set of numeric nutrient criteria. The Waterways Commission, which is tasked with “formulating an overall plan for dealing with any problems that exist concerning the St. Johns River and all tidal waters in Duval County,” never commented on Armingeon’s letter.

Now, chairman John Crescimbeni tells The Florida Independent that the Waterways Commission won’t take a stance concerning the criteria, but even that neutrality doesn’t stop him from saying that industry estimates are “probably higher than reality.”

The EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria aim to more strictly govern Florida waterways — so often inundated with algal blooms and fish kills, both symptoms of excessive nutrients. The criteria would likely affect big businesses that pump waste directly into state waterways and would require many to revamp the way they do business.

But how much would they really cost? The EPA has stated in the past that reasonable estimates could cost “at least a billion dollars over time,” but  that nutrient criteria “would not cost tens of billions of dollars as some have estimated.”

The Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council, an association of more than 60 Sunshine State wastewater utilities, has touted cost estimates of more than $50 billion and has alleged that the criteria would lead to a hefty hike in the average Floridian’s water bill, which could cost Florida residents between $500 and $900 more per year.

A November 2010 Florida Independent examination of internal emails within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, however, revealed that the state agency, which publicly touted the higher cost estimates, disputed the Water Environment Association’s numbers behind closed doors.

A new cache of Department of Environmental Protection emails obtained by the Independent last week shows that shortly after our original piece ran, the St. Johns Riverkeeper’s Armingeon penned a letter to the Jacksonville Waterways Commission, imploring its members to take a closer look at the cost estimates.

“What I … find troubling is the fact that even after DEP staff determined the analysis of the costs as full of inaccuracies, including incorrect math, some DEP staff members continued to spread falsehoods about the potential costs,” wrote Armingeon in his 2010 letter, citing the Independent. “We believe that industry groups and special interests have used inflated cost estimates and hysterical rhetoric to mislead the public and elected officials as to the need and costs of these proposed  standards – case in point – the DEP email.”

Armingeon says that he never received a reply to his letter, and continues to be disappointed in the use of faulty cost estimates. “The Carollo report, which was funded by the polluters, has been discredited numerous times,” he writes via email. “The $50 billion costs is a total fabrication. Yet, the polluters continue to cite it, believing if you tell a lie enough times it becomes a fact.”

“The Waterways Commission has not stated its position with regard to the nutrient criteria,” says Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni, chair of the commission.”We do host periodic presentations with representatives of both [Jacksonville Electric Authority, aka JEA] and the Riverkeeper because we like to stay in the loop. But we have no stance on the issue. We won’t say that one or the other side is right or wrong.”

And though Crescimbeni says it wouldn’t be appropriate for the commission to take a stance on the nutrient criteria, he doesn’t argue with the fact that cost estimates are likely inflated.

“JEA’s estimates are probably higher than reality because they are trying to spin this in a way that doesn’t cost additional money for them,” says Crescimbeni.

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