Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Is on Wrong Side in Protecting the St. Johns

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Is on Wrong Side in Protecting the St. Johns

Article excerpt

Byline: Ronald L. Littlepage, Times-Union columnist

Environmental groups fighting to protect the health of the St. Johns River spent much of last week locked in battle with a state agency that's supposed to represent the people but has a record of being chummier with industry and big business instead -- the state Department of Environmental Regulation.

The environmental groups -- the Putnam County Environmental Council, the Stewards of the St. Johns and the Clean Water Network -- have been trying to stop the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Palatka from dumping its dirty effluent into the middle of the St. Johns via a 4-mile-long pipeline.

For the past 50 years, the mill has been discharging its contaminated wastewater into Rice Creek, turning the St. Johns tributary into a cesspool hardly fit for people or fish.

The environmental groups challenged the DEP's plan to grant Georgia-Pacific a permit for the pipeline during a recent three-week-long administrative hearing, and last week DEP attorneys filed paperwork to have the environmental groups pay the DEP's legal fees.

The DEP said that the environmental groups' insistence on arguing about dioxin going into the river with the mill's effluent was "frivolous," because the state doesn't have standards for how much dioxin the river can handle and the environmental groups should have to pay for dragging out the hearing.

First, it's mind-boggling that the state doesn't have a dioxin standard, since dioxin is one of the deadliest chemicals around. It's hardly frivolous to make sure the river isn't going to be poisoned.

Second, the claim of frivolity is a hard pill to swallow considering that the DEP attorneys spent their time during the administrative hearings buddying up to the Georgia-Pacific attorneys and the environmental groups' experts never got a chance to present their case. …

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