September News From the Chair

By Whitey Markle

Summer is almost over and the travelers are coming back home.  We can expect a lot of activity in the next months. The legislature will begin in January this year, rather than in March, so the incumbents can begin campaigning for their re-elections. Unfortunately this time change has the effect of throwing our planned schedule off because the legislators are meeting in their respective committees in Tallahassee as we speak. So any requests and suggestions from their constituents should have already happened.  Who knew?

Engagement with Senator Bradley
Merrille Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum were ahead of the curve and arranged for a face-to-face meeting with State Senator Rob Bradley on August 8 which I was invited to attend. The meeting was specifically arranged to talk the anti-fracking bill that died in Senator Bradley’s  committee last session. If nothing else was accomplished, we now know the Senator and he knows us. Communicating with a professional politician ain’t easy folks. We left the meeting with Bradley committing “study the issue”, and with him asking us to support the Black Creek Pipeline that is supposed to remedy the low water levels in the Keystone Heights lakes.  We left his office promising to “study the issue”.

Phosphate Mining
The Phosphate Mining issue in Bradford and Union Counties is rolling forward.  The HPS Mining people have served notice to both counties that they will initiate litigation if the counties don’t move their mining permit applications soon. (See Deanna Mericle’s article on the issue). The Bradford Board of County Commissioners regular meeting on August 17 included the issue of hiring (or not) of a consultant  “ to review existing information” regarding the Bradford County Comprehensive Plan and that county’s procedure on the issue so far. The Citizens Against Phosphate Mining, Our Santa Fe River, Santa Fe Lake Dwellers, The Santa Fe Audubon Society Chapter, and the Suwannee/St. Johns Sierra Club staged a huge demonstration before the meeting and then, with the help of many interested citizens, packed the Board room and hallways for the hearing.  Not a soul spoke in favor of the mining application (Special Exception to the Bradford Comprehensive Plan’s Land Development Regulations). Although the subject of the issue was whether to hire the single applicant, the testimony was factual, scientific, and sometimes emotional. Ken Cornell, Chair of the Alachua County Commission reiterated that the prior offer to use Alachua County staff and resources was still on the table. People from as far away as Polk County (home of the greatest phosphate mining disaster in Florida’s history) to tell the Bradford Commission their personal stories about the permanent environmental destruction that phosphate mining has left .  Many folks from the area and from White Springs (home of the phosphate mining disaster in Hamilton County) referred to their homes as being at “Ground Zero” At the conclusion, the Bradford County Board approved a motion to hire the consultant. Details of the contract, including their costs, will be discussed in the near future. We believe the Bradford County Commission is now aware of our sincerity. In my 3 minutes, I reminded the Commission that they were the “Screen Door”, the first line of defense in the preservation of their constituents’ health and welfare, citing irresponsible guardianship by the State agencies who would be responsible for that health and welfare if they pass the Special Exception application. The cold fact is that whether they permit the Special Exception or not, they will likely be sued. But there seemed to be a much more amiable reception by the Bradford County Commission than in prior meetings.

Engagement with the Agencies 
I represented SSJ on August in a conference with representatives of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regarding the Middle and Lower Suwannee Basin Management Acton Plan at the Suwannee River Water Management District headquarters in Live Oak.   Essentially, the FDEP representatives reported that they had made little progress in negotiating with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) regarding water consumption and fertilizer application data by farming operations; that FDEP has the responsibility for water quality, not water quantity, which is the responsibility of the Water Management Districts(WMDs).  We suggested that FDEP does have the authority to mandate effective water consumption monitoring by FDACS,  and water quantity monitoring by the WMDs. We also discussed the means of funding such monitoring which falls on the legislature.

The Middle and Lower Suwannee River Basin management Action Plan (BMAP) is a sight for sore eyes, as are many of the BMAPs  produced by FDEP since the Water Bill was passed by the legislature in 2016 that mandates completion of the BMAPS for priority Florida waters by July 1, 2017. As is normal in these hurried plans, many ”projects” ( paid for by state funds… and me) are lacking in bight and effectiveness.  These “projects” are supposed to be the remedies for water quality issues in the BMAP areas, due to lack of adequate state funding and subsequent manpower.  I expressed my concern that we continue to receive the same excuses for ineffective remedy by the state agencies year after year, and that FFEP, FDACS, and the WMDs should press the legislature to adequately fund these critical programs.

“Good News” on the Pipeline…we think.
The Federal District Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. issued an order vacating the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) February 2016 Order that approved the Sabal Trail pipeline. The Withlacoochee, Alapaha, Willacoochee, Little, and Upper and Lower Suwannee River Watersheds Coalition (WWALS), The Sierra Club, Flint Riverkeeper, and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, were plaintiffs in the litigation.
In a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that the project would deliver to power plants.
Though the ruling is a big win for the Sierra Club, the practical impact of the court decision is still unclear. Sabal Trail spokeswoman Andrea Grover tells New Times that pipeline owners are still reviewing the ruling, adding that “the court’s decision will not affect… operations at this time.”

For Sierra Club representative Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, though, the decision Tuesday is significant for the Florida, Georgia, and Alabama residents who live alongside the pipeline.

“This type of outcome shows them that they do have a voice, that they do matter and people do matter,” she says. “Corporations think they can do whatever they want to people on the ground, but the reality is the citizens do matter and do count.”

Sierra Club Florida News stated:
“Today, the D.C. Circuit rejected FERC’s excuses for refusing to fully consider the effects of this dirty and dangerous pipeline,” said Sierra Club Staff Attorney Elly Benson. “Even though this pipeline is intended to deliver fracked gas to Florida power plants, FERC maintained that it could ignore the greenhouse gas pollution from burning the gas. For too long, FERC has abandoned its responsibility to consider the public health and environmental impacts of its actions, including climate change. Today’s decision requires FERC to fulfill its duties to the public, rather than merely serve as a rubber stamp for corporate polluters’ attempts to construct dangerous and unnecessary fracked gas pipelines”.  Special thanks to Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum (SSJ and Florida Sierra Club), John Quarterman (WWALS), and the many other tenacious activists that stayed the course on this issue.  As of this writing, we are not sure what the consequences of this decision will be. But this is a great day in Environmental activism, and a great day for all climate change activism.

BLACK CREEK PIPELINE                                                                                                                                                 Senator Rob Bradley was able to secure $17 m for the Black Creek Pipeline which will transfer water from Black Creek in Northern Clay County to the Keystone Heights Lakes We will see how the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) proposes to accomplish this task with that amount of money on Monday, August.28 at a SJRWMD workshop in Keystone Heights. According to very reliable  experts in the hydrology field, this amount of money may build the infrastructure, but it certainly won’t maintain operations.  We’re not sure how this concept in legislation was designed, but it looks like there will have to be additional funding for operational costs. We have problems with the whole idea:

  1. Like the Sabal Trail Pipeline, there will be immense environmental damage along the 12 mile pipeline.
  2. The water from Black will have to be pumped, not drained, because the Keystone Heights Lakes are much higher in elevation than Black Creek, so there must be some sort of pumping equipment installed and operated as long as the water is to reach its destination.
  3. After pumping the millions of gallons of fresh surface water from Black Creek, about 40% will be evaporated, leaving a mere “drop in the bucket” to restore the lakes.
  4. We question the economic viability of the project. No mention has been made regarding any cost-share on the project.

It is easy for our leaders and managers to fool us when manipulating groundwater because it is not as visible as our surface water. SSJ has not taken a position on this project at this point in time, but it doesn’t look like it will meet the Sierra Club’s mission. Stay tuned.

Regional Sierra Club leaders Conference September 17.
Leaders of 4 North Florida Sierra Club Groups will gather at Goldhead Branch State Park on Sunday, September 17 for a brown bag conference. Topics of discussion and comparison will be regional and local issues. Leaders from the SSJ Group. The Nassau Group, The Northeast Group, and the Volusia-Flagler Group will attend.

Dredging the St.Johns River Port, Ocklawaha River Restoration and Rodman Dam Removal, Seismic testing in the Atlantic, Clean Air and Out-of-Control Growth will be just some of the topics on the agenda.
This will be the first of what we hope will be a series of regional SC meetings. We hope to leave with a wealth of valuable regional information.

Don’t miss this fun day of educational events, music, and prizes, focusing on Solar Energy. 9am to 5pm at Rum 138, 2070 SW County Road 138, Fort White, FL 32038.
University of Florida’s Dr. Wendell Porter & Jennison Kipp Searcy Sierra Club’s Kathryn Taubert, Suwannee Riverkeeper John Quarterman Solar Impact’s Mike Garre, Solar Energy Exhibitors Independent Green Technologies—Solar Impact—Solar Trek—Solar Lights & More Live Music & Local Food Bullard Brothers Band, Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters & More! Saturday, September 23rd—9am to 5pm Solar Energy Expo FREE ADMISSION Sierra Club North Florida @ Rum 138 2070 SW County Road 138, Fort White, FL 32038 Contact for more informa>on: Chris Mericle:, Deanna Mericle: Jane Blais: Rum 138: 386-454-4247