|Skeptics piling on St. Mary's withdrawal plan|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Wednesday, 10 August 2011 14:13|
Questions continue to mount about a Texas-based company’s plan to withdraw water from the St. Mary’s River near Moniac in the Georgia Bend area and extract half of the naturally-occurring tannins from the water.
The Southern Environmental Law Center in Atlanta is the latest organization to direct its ire at the proposal, submitting a letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division late last month urging the agency to deny Miocene Holdings LLC’s applications for permits to withdraw up to 350,000 gallons per day, filter out the tannins and discharge up to 349,000 gallons per day back into the river.
“Georgia’s water quality standards do not allow this kind of wholesale chemical alteration in the St. Mary’s River,” states the letter dated July 28 from Gilbert B. Rogers, the center’s senior attorney. “Without scientific assurance that the chemically-altered discharge of water will not be harmful to humans, animals or other aquatic life, Miocene cannot be permitted to make the proposed discharge.”
Miocene’s permit applications remain incomplete after its initial submittal to GEPD in December, 2010. Regulators have been corresponding with Miocene’s engineers and other consultants since that time, requesting further information and analysis.
The company’s initial plan to pump water back into the river after extracting the tannins may be changing, according to GEPD’s acting assistant branch chief for the St. Mary’s and three other watersheds, Cliff Lewis.
Miocene is contemplating “operational options ... to eliminate a direct discharge back to the river,” Mr. Lewis wrote in an e-mail to members of the St. Mary’s River Management Committee and the St. Johns River Water Management District.
The committee consists of representatives from Baker, Nassau, Camden and Charlton counties, while the district regulates water consumption and planning in 18 counties in northeastern and eastern central Florida.
Both groups have filed objections to the permits without further data from the applicant regarding the volume of the river’s flow at the project site. It’s located on roughly 100 acres on the eastern side of the St. Mary’s River.
Assurances from Miocene that withdrawals will cease if the river gets too low are based on flawed data, they contend.
Miocene’s permit application relies on historic river flow measurements from the USGS monitoring stations at Moniac and Macclenny, 3 miles and 13 miles, respectively, from the project’s location.
The water district, management committee and Southern Environmental Law Center have asked that regulators require Miocene to submit site-specific data showing the project’s potential impact on the river’s flow.
Miocene’s application has also drawn criticism for not addressing possible impacts from the tannin removal.
The firm intends to use the tannins as an organic fertilizer additive, which company officials have said will help reduce the use of chemical fertilizers that harm the environment.
The tannins give the river its murky appearance and a low pH level. An analysis submitted to GEPD by Miocene shows the river’s pH level is expected to increase, but the company has yet to submit information on how the change will affect the river’s environment.
Mr. Rogers wrote in his letter to GEPD the project will “significantly harm this sensitive blackwater ecosystem.” He notes that the river supports at least 65 species of fish, including sunfish and bass, as well as native plants and is already impaired due to elevated levels of mercury.
“It is still not suitable for fishing, which is its designated use under the Clean Water Act,” Mr. Rogers stated.
Charlton County’s Chip Campbell, who chairs the St. Mary’s River Management Committee, remained skeptical of the project at the committee’s June 27 meeting in Callahan.
The meeting’s minutes indicate he expressed concern about the “newness” of the project and said he felt it is tantamount to mining a public resource.
That led the committee to begin discussing the possibility of mining royalties.
Mr. Lewis, who attended the meeting, however, soon explained that Georgia law, which governs the Miocene property, addresses mining and extraction but likely not the extraction of tannins, specifically, nor the extraction from a public water body, the minutes show.
Once Miocene’s permit application(s) have been completed and reviewed by GEPD, a public comment period will commence, though it’s unclear when that will occur.
A message left for Miocene’s plant manager and Glen St. Mary resident Emmett Noblitt early this week seeking comment was not returned.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 14:32|