An administrative law judge has scheduled a three-day hearing in November on whether a new set of environmental regulations for International Paper’s Cantonment paper mill are sufficient to protect the surrounding environment.
Jackie Lane, a marine biologist who has lived on the banks of Perdido Bay for 45 years, asserts that pollution from the mill is killing life in the bay and raising the toxicity level and pH balance of the water body. Earlier this year, Lane challenged a 2020 Florida Department of Environmental Protection consent order setting guidelines on the timeline and corrective actions IP must implement to address chronic toxicity issues associated with its wastewater.
Lane argues the consent order doesn’t address the root causes of the toxicity and simply gives IP more time to operate in violation of clean water regulations.
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She wrote, “The first Consent Order issued to (former mill owner) Champion International required that at the expiration of the Consent Order in 1994, the paper mill in Cantonment Florida had to comply with all applicable standards and rules. That did not happen. … Unfortunately, here we are in May 2020 and the paper mill is still not in compliance with very little chance of coming into compliance. This present Consent Order simply allows more time for more destruction of the bay.”
In a series of virtual hearings Nov. 2, 9 and 10, a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings judge will hear from Lane, the DEP and International Paper to determine if the new consent order should be allowed to take effect.
The paper mill processes lumber into paper products, and as part of its pulping process, it discharges an average annual daily flow of nearly 24 million gallons of industrial wastewater called “effluent.” The effluent is discharged to a 1,381-acre treatment wetland bordered by Perdido Bay and lower Elevenmile Creek.
The effluent has repeatedly failed to meet standards for chronic toxicity, and in 2012, IP was placed on a “Whole Effluent Toxicity” correction plan to fix the issues.
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The correction plan has been unsuccessful so far. The new DEP consent order set interim water quality limits on the mill’s effluent, requires IP to pay penalties of $190,000 for past violations, stipulates penalties for future violations and mandates IP must implement a mitigation project equivalent to at least $1 million.
However, the consent order allows the facility to continue operations through Jan. 1, 2022, and allows for IP and DEP to collaborate on “Site Specific Alternative Criteria” — a set of IP-specific water quality standards for indicators like conductance, dissolved oxygen and pH.
IP contends “there are no negative impacts on the designated uses, aquatic toxicity or human health that would result from adoption of the SSAC. This conclusion … is based on water quality sampling showing that the biology of the receiving waters remained the same before and after introduction of the mill’s effluent and favorably compares to reference wetlands with healthy biology.”
Lane disputes those claims. She argues the new limits in the consent order do not rise to state standards, and that DEP has been negligent by allowing IP to operate in a continual state of noncompliance.
She wrote in her petition for an administrative hearing that she requests “this consent order be denied and International Paper be fined for never complying with state law.”
The administrative hearings will be viewable via Zoom for members of the public who request access through the Division of Administrative Hearings within seven days of the hearing date. A summary of the DEP’s enforcement history with IP is available under the “Northwest District Quick Links” heading at floridadep.gov/northwest.