Environmental Measure Fought by City Officials

Article excerpt

A state senator's bid to help an Alachua County cement factory

is drawing fire from Jacksonville officials who say it might

permanently freeze local environmental regulations on businesses

in dozens of North Florida counties.

Critics say the measure, authored by Sen. George Kirkpatrick,

D-Gainesville, could eventually cause identical businesses in

Jacksonville to face different sets of rules based on whether

they're located north or south of the St. Johns River.

They have asked Gov. Lawton Chiles to veto the measure, which

the Florida Legislature passed this month, on its last day in

session.

The bill "will work the absurdity of splitting the city of

Jacksonville in half . . . [with] facilities being subject to

two separate sets of rules," the chairman of Jacksonville's

Environmental Protection Board, M.F. Mass, wrote to Chiles last

week.

Supporters say the criticism is wildly off base. Statewide,

they say, no more than a handful of companies are affected.

Lawyers have offered conflicting readings of the measure, an

obscure three-sentence clause tucked into a 22page mining bill

co-sponsored by Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, Rep. John

Thrasher, R-Orange Park, and Rep. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville.

Jacksonville-area lawmakers had supported the bill.

The mining bill was sent to Chiles on Wednesday. An aide said

the governor would review the bill during the next two weeks

before taking any action.

Kirkpatrick's clause prohibits local governments from changing

any environmental regulations that apply to businesses

"permitted and under construction as of May 1." The rule applies

only to businesses north of the Cross-Florida Greenway, a line

based on the Jacksonville-to-Gulf of Mexico barge canal that was

planned decades ago but never finished.

The St. Johns River is part of the Greenway, so the rule

applies on Jacksonville's Northside and Westside, but not in

Arlington or the Southside.

Supporters said Kirkpatrick wrote the clause to help Florida

Rock Industries, a Jacksonville-based company building a cement

plant in Alachua County. The $100 million plant has been

politically controversial, and county officials have considered

creating new air pollution laws that would affect the plant's

operation. …