In the wake of a planned pipeline that would re-route much of the Georgia-Pacific Palatka mill’s waste directly into the St. Johns River, an area environmental group is planning to voice their concerns. The waste currently flows into nearby Rice Creek.

Karen Ahlers of the Palatka Environmental Council says issues surrounding the pipeline only make things more difficult for the people of Putnam County, who are essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place. If measures to clean up surrounding waterways are too expensive, the company may decide to close the plant. “I hope people understand how difficult this is for our local community. Georgia-Pacific puts food on the tables of so many people in the area, but at the same time, they are responsible for a substantial amount of the area’s pollution,” she says, adding that the council “is very supportive of the concerns of the people of Putnam County, and we don’t want to be insensitive to their pleas.”

Here’s the council’s press release:

The public is invited to a community discussion about a Palatka paper mill’s plan to pipe their effluent directly into the St. Johns River. The event, sponsored by the Putnam County Environmental Council, will feature key players in the debate on all sides of the issue.“Georgia-Pacific Pipeline: A Community Discussion” will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at the Putnam County Commission Chambers, 2509 Crill Ave. in Palatka.  A panel of experts will give brief presentations followed by questions from the audience.

The debate centers on provisions in an Administrative Order (AO) issued in 2002 as a result of a Petition for Administrative Hearing filed by Putnam County Environmental Council, Stewards of the St. Johns, and Linda Young.  The AO gave a compliance schedule for process improvements at the mill to improve the quality of its discharge to Rice Creek, a small tributary of the St. Johns River. If GP was unable to meet Class III water quality standards with process improvements, the AO instructed G-P to build a pipeline to the St. Johns River. The question that remains for many is whether G-P has done all it can to meet those standards.

Panelists will be Greg Strong, director of FDEP’s northeast district office in Jacksonville; Jeremy Alexander, Georgia-Pacific; Neil Armingeon, St. Johns Riverkeeper; and, chemist Brian Quinn.

G-P has failed to meet water quality standards for many years and first proposed building a pipe to the St. Johns in 1994.  Since that time many improvements have been made but still the quality of G-P’s effluent violates water quality standards for color, conductivity, and chronic toxicity.

Environmental groups argue that G-P could do a better job and that moving the waste is not cleaning it up – there are other ways, if the company would pay for it. Opponents of the pipeline believe it would be far more beneficial to pipeline construction monies on enhanced treatment rather than just piping the effluent to the River for dilution with no additional treatment.

G-P argues that they have invested $200 million in upgrades and there are no other technically and economically feasible ways to further improve their discharge.

The mill employs more than 1,000 in Palatka and has been a stalwart of the local economy since the 1940s.

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