Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Rule Requires JEA Tell Public about Spills; Utilities Criticize Florida's Mandating of Quick Notification

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Rule Requires JEA Tell Public about Spills; Utilities Criticize Florida's Mandating of Quick Notification

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell

A new rule required JEA to immediately alert the public about the release of millions of gallons of sewage from treatment facilities that lost electrical power during Hurricane Matthew.

That same rule also mandated notification that 1 gallon of sewage was released from a manhole onto the ground due to a grease blockage.

The emergency rule creating the public notice requirement was issued in September by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott. It was in direct response to a sewage spill in Pinellas County and a sinkhole at a fertilizer plant in Polk County that allowed up to 215 million gallons of contaminated water to seep into the aquifer.

"It does not make sense that the public is not immediately notified when pollution incidents occur, and that is why I am directing DEP to immediately issue an emergency rule implementing strict requirements for public notification within 24 hours," Scott wrote in a Sept. 26 news release. "Today I am demanding any business, county or city government responsible for a pollution incident to immediately tell the public."

The state is now in the process of making the emergency rule permanent, and workshops were conducted across the state with the final one Wednesday in Jacksonville. A public hearing then will take place at 9 a.m. Nov. 7 in Tallahassee.

Tuesday in the capital representatives of various utility companies lined up one after another to criticize the policy.

They described the rule as too broad, cumbersome to small businesses experiencing relatively minor spills and potentially costly. Several representatives of utility and wastewater companies said it should be left up to Environmental Protection to determine if and when the public should be told about a pollution spill.

"We've been giving notice for years, that is not the issue; it's just who decides how to disseminate that information," said David Dee, an environmental law attorney who represents various local governments and utility companies. …

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