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Foley pipeline resolution tabled, outrage ensues

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Two commissioners plan to tour cellulose plant before approving resolution; Jack Rudloe ejected from meeting

By NICOLE ZEMA
nzema@thewakullanews.net

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Wakulla County Commissioners want two more weeks to gather information before voting on a resolution opposing the permit for Foley Cellulose Mill’s effluent pipeline extension project.
A resolution vote was expected at the Aug. 1 commission meeting, and several citizens expressed outrage when commissioners voted 4-1 to table the item until the Aug. 15 meeting.
In efforts to meet state environmental standards and improve the freshwater portion of the Fenholloway River, Georgia Pacific’s Foley (Buckeye) Cellulose Mill in Perry plans to extend a chemical effluent pipe downstream within a mile of the river’s mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Wakulla’s coastline is about 20 miles from the river’s mouth, and there are concerns that the effluent could negatively impact the grass beds, aquatic life, water quality, and ultimately public health.
Commissioner Howard Kessler presented a resolution against the effluent pipeline project, but commissioners Randy Merritt and Richard Harden said they will tour the plant and gather more information before voting on the resolution.
Georgia Pacific representatives shared project details and their efforts to improve the effluent at two previous commission meetings. A workshop was held in July, where activists from the Florida Clean Water Network painted a grim picture of possible ecological disaster resulting from the pipeline extension.
While no board action was taken at that workshop, commissioners implied they might be supportive of a resolution opposing the pipe project.
“I got a call from state Representative Halsey Beshears,” Commissioner Merritt said at the beginning of the Aug. 1 meeting. “We talked about Howard’s item. I told him how I was probably going to vote on it, and he asked if I would be willing to go look at the plant personally before voting on this issue. I was going to ask respectfully to table (Kessler’s) item to the next meeting.”
“No!” cried several citizens.
“I respectfully decline that,” Commissioner Kessler said.
Merritt said his only goal is to gather more information.
“It doesn’t mean I’m going to change my mind,” Merritt said. “I told Halsey at the end of the day, I am going to vote on the best interest in Wakulla County, not what is in the best interest of the region.”
Merritt acknowledged the “timing concerns” of his request, but citizens expressed fear that the Army Corps of Engineers might approve the project permit soon, before a Wakulla County resolution is submitted opposing the project.
Georgia-Pacific representatives said the Foley Cellulose mill will complete significant improvements to the effluent treatment system by 2019, and relocate the treated effluent to the tidal portion of the river by March 6, 2021.
Kessler made a motion to adopt the resolution.
“This is a very important decision, and I want to gather as many facts and information as I could,” Commissioner Harden said.
No commissioners would second Kessler’s motion to adopt the resolution. Harden then made a motion to table the item until the Aug. 15 meeting, which resulted in an emotional display of public ire and frustration with the board.
“People are dying from cancer, and you’re putting up with it,” shouted Jack Rudloe, a marine life expert. Rudloe previously spoke of tumorous cancers in green sea turtles possibly associated with the toxic effluent, including its possible links to human cancers.
Chairman Ralph Thomas rapped the gavel.
“No, dammit, no,” Rudloe said. “Throw me out. Let me tell you, the Fenholloway is polluting and it will impact our oyster, crabs… You’re wrong in doing what you’re doing today.”
Security escorted Rudloe to the door, where citizen Chris Evans stood.
“You ought to listen to him,” Evans said. “You guys are a joke in this community.”
Kessler described the volume of information requested and received from Georgia-Pacific representatives.
“To take a tour, a dog and pony show… is not how you make a decision on this,” Kessler said.
 Merritt said he fully intends to vote in favor of ratifying the resolution, after he sees the facility.
He said the resolution mirrors a similar one, passed 5-0 by commissioners in 2010.
“There is one last permit that has to be pulled and approved before this plan goes forward, and there’s a deadline,” Kessler said. “That plant is enjoying your actions tonight by delaying it. You are working right into their plan. This could happen next week with the Corps of Engineers – I don’t know.”
Thomas said he was supportive of the resolution since the last meeting. Then he took a tour of the plant himself last Friday, which only reinforced his support.
“In spite of that, you have insulted my integrity, and the integrity of the board, saying it’s wrong to gather the information,” Thomas said to Kessler.
Thomas held up a folder stuffed with papers – information he gathered since the mill tour on Friday.
“I will not apologize for doing my job and getting the facts,” he said.
There was ample time to do this research, Kessler said. “I think it’s very disingenuous on the night of this resolution coming before the board to ask – I want to visit the plant.”
Thomas said his tour was scheduled immediately after seeing the new resolution Wednesday.
Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network, said she was happily encouraged to hear the board’s general support of the resolution, but disappointed in the decision to table it.
“Time is of the essence,” Young said. “I take responsibility for the lateness of this. I knew there was a resolution already on the record… I was thinking that I had to get to these other counties. It is not (Kessler’s) fault.”
Thomas said extra steps should be taken in the resolution, not only to oppose the pipeline, but ask for more improvements to the Fenholloway.
“You’re absolutely correct and I applaud you,” Young said.
Several stood to speak in support of the resolution, and express disappointment in tabling it.
Madeleine Carr said a tour of the Perry plant “really is a big public relations boondoggle. All we want to do is right now oppose any more effluent going into the Gulf of Mexico. Please do not derail the resolution.”
Citizen Jeannie Beck suggested Rep. Halsey Beshears might be in Foley’s pockets.
“I don’t care what Halsey Beshears wants you to do, or what he thinks,” she said. “These are our commissioners, they are not Halsey Beshears’ or the paper mill’s commissioners.”
The News contacted Beshears following the meeting, and the representative said he made contact with all five Wakulla commissioners on the issue. Taylor County is within Beshears’ 10-county district.
“I wanted them to make a objective decision,” he said. “How can you make a decision on something that has never been seen – only second-hand information? I would do the same thing if Taylor County was opposing operations in Wakulla.”
He used St. Marks Powder as an example – what if a community elsewhere wanted to oppose it? Jobs could be lost.
Foley Cellulose supports more than 1,500 workers directly and indirectly, with more than 500 people directly employed.
 “Those people have families and kids,” Beshears said. “This is an environmentally sensitive issue. It’s about jobs and doing what is right for the county on both sides. I expect (the Wakulla commission) to pass the resolution 5-0, and do it with a clear conscience.”
At the commission meeting, several people in the audience expressed concern about Beshears receiving contributions from the Koch brothers, who own Georgia-Pacific.
“I’ve taken money from them and money all over the country,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I’m bought and paid for.” Beshears said he looks for opportunities to give that money back to communities, including local charity events.
“Everytime I can take Koch brothers money and give back to the county, I’ll absolutely do that. $2,000 doesn’t buy me. There’s not enough money out there to buy me.”
If the public has more questions for Beshears, he said they may reach out through his personal email: halseybeshears@gmail.com.
“I think we need to support this resolution, but I think it doesn’t go far enough,” Thomas said.
After the meeting, the commissioner produced a document provided by the Army Corps of Engineers that said the public comment period closed in May 2015, concerning the pipeline permit.
Regardless, Thomas said the resolution should still be submitted.