Georgia-Pacific representatives were set to attend a meeting held by the Putnam County Environmental Council Tuesday evening, to speak with community members and environmentalists about the construction of a controversial pipeline that would re-route much of the effluent from the company’s Putnam County paper mill from Rice Creek to the larger St. Johns River.

Though the meeting has now been canceled, G-P’s pipeline proposal remains an issue for local environmentalists.

The proposed pipeline is the result of a 1994 application from G-P to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that sought a permit that would allow the company to relocate their existing wastewater discharge.

In May of 2001, the department issued the mill a permit along with 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.”

Area environmentalists view the pipeline as yet another problem for the unhealthy St. Johns. In a recent post on its blog entitled “Dilution is NOT a solution to Pollution,” the St. Johns Riverkeeper calls the pipeline plans “archaic” and says they do “nothing to benefit the public or our St. Johns River.” According to the post, “the only benefit that will result from the pipeline is to G-P’s bottom line.”

Jeremy Alexander, a public relations coordinator for the mill, contends that four weeks of expert testimony reveal that the pipeline will not adversely affect the river.

“These are not G-P findings,” he says. “These are facts based on proven scientific testimony [which states] that the nitrogen load to the river will not change. To the contrary, many improvements [are listed in the scientific findings].”

The findings Alexander mentions are cited in the final order (.pdf) from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that followed four weeks of testimony and scientific data from a variety of witnesses.

The project as set forth in the proposed Permit and Administrative Order will be clearly in the public interest because it will result in full achievement of water quality standards and full compliance with the designated use of the receiving water body. The project will result in a substantial reduction in pollutant loading in Rice Creek and the St. Johns River, regardless of the whether the discharge will be located in Rice Creek or in the St. Johns River …

… The proposed discharge into the St. Johns River will not adversely affect the conservation of fish and wildlife, including endangered or threatened species, or their habitats. Instead, the proposed discharge would provide a benefit to fish and wildlife, and their habitats.  No persuasive evidence was presented that the proposed discharge to the St. Johns River would adversely affect the fishing or water-based recreational values or marine productivity in the vicinity of the proposed discharge. Indeed, the record demonstrates a beneficial effect as to those factors.

Though G-P will no longer be speaking about the pipeline in Putnam County tomorrow evening, due to the cancellation, Alexander will be attending next month’s meeting of the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board. Though he was not allocated time to speak before the board, Alexander says he will be answering any questions its members may have. St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon has also requested time at the meeting, to discuss his thoughts on the pipeline.

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