Voices needed to protect sea grasses

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With all the threats recently to the environment coming from all angles, one that is largely under the radar is the imminent decision to allow the Buckeye Pulp Mill in Perry to pipe its nasty effluent (i.e., industrial wastewater) to the mouth of the Fenholloway River smack dab in Apalachee Bay of Florida’s Big Bend.

You may feel like checking the date of the paper after reading that sentence. Many of you may have heard of this pipeline issue in the early 1990s when it was beaten back but obviously not killed. Some of you may even have ventured over to Perry some three years ago to tell the Environmental Protection Agency staffers to not just shove the industrial pollution out to sea in order to ostensibly clean up the river.  

Last year, we were pleading the Florida Department of Protection to not create technical loopholes to allow this pipeline to pollute our Gulf directly.

The problem at hand is that the Buckeye Pulp Mill is still operating under permit that expired in the 1990s and it either can’t or won’t clean up its effluent enough to be safe for the Fenholloway River. Now the DEP and EPA are about to approve water quality standard loopholes that would enable the paper plant to pipe its industrial effluent out to the mouth of the river.  

Rather than force Buckeye to clean up its polluted effluent, which is currently discharging 26 miles upstream, the agencies that are supposed to help protect the environment (it’s right there in both their names!) are enabling the plant to “offshore” its pollution problem.

If approved, approximately 50 million gallons of industrial pollution will flow each day right into Apalachee Bay and into the Big Bend Aquatic Seagrasses Preserve – which oddly enough is managed by that same DEP.  

Looking at a map of the Big Bend Preserve, a large chunk right in the middle around the Fenholloway has been carved out. Why? Because that is a “dead zone” where that wonderful and lush seagrass of the preserve’s namesake no longer thrives due to the industrial pollution of that river by that paper mill.  

Neither do the critters that rely on healthy seagrasses. Critters such as blue crabs, stone crabs, gag grouper, spotted seatrout, redfish and many more that have economic importance to this very region and county typically thrive in healthy seagrass beds.  

The already existing 10-square mile dead zone is a mere 25 miles at most from the mouth of the St. Marks River. Commercial fishermen from Wakulla and elsewhere venture right off shore of the Big Bend to harvest various seafood including stone crabs, one of the most valuable commercial fisheries remaining in the region.  

Recreational fishing and water enthusiasts of all flavors should be alarmed that the Buckeye Paper Mill may soon receive the go ahead to essentially expand that dead zone further out so sea.  

Aside from directly impacting the seagrasses, another major concern with the effluent is the high probability of harmful algae blooms (i.e., red tides) that will likely occur in coastal waters. The proposed pipe merely shifts industrial pollution downstream and closer to a once pristine coastal marine environment that is utilized by countless important critters and humans alike, and by the way will dump into a DEP aquatic preserve.  

To voice your disdain now, contact Nancy Stoner at the EPA at (202) 564-5700 or stoner.nancy@epa.gov.

Chad Hanson