Environmental Groups Accuse JEA Of Causing 'Serious Harm' To St. Johns River

Dec 12, 2018

The St. Johns Riverkeeper and Sierra Club want the state to put the brakes on renewing a JEA permit that allows pollution to make its way into the St. Johns River.

The organizations have filed what are known as technical comments to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday.

At issue is JEA’s Northside Generating Station's pollution discharge permit.

“Contaminants dumped directly into groundwater and leaching from JEA waste facilities are making their way into the river, its tributaries, and surrounding wetlands. Operations at NGS harm endangered sea turtles and kill billions of aquatic organisms each year,” said Janet Stanko, local group chair for the Sierra Club Northeast Florida in an email to WJCT News. 

Stanko claims the contaminants are causing “serious harm” to the St. Johns River’s ecosystem.

The groups said documented evidence indicates toxic metals are being dumped directly into groundwater from the power plant’s waste facilities. These contaminants are then migrating into the St. Johns River, its tributaries, and surrounding wetlands, according to the groups.

JEA counters it is in full compliance with the current wastewater permit and responded to WJCT News with the following statement: 

JEA is surprised and disappointed in the comments the Sierra Club and St. Johns Riverkeeper recently submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The comments concern the renewal of JEA’s Industrial Wastewater/National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for Northside Generating Station.

JEA is committed to the environment and public health, and is in full compliance with the current wastewater permit, which was timely filed for renewal. We are closely analyzing the comments sent to DEP and will respond accordingly.

- Gerri M. Boyce, JEA spokeswoman

The St. Johns Riverkeeper and Sierra Club also claim JEA’s plant has an outdated cooling system that’s killing up to 109 billion organisms annually.

The groups are recommending:

  • That JEA stop the discharge of what the groups call "highly polluted wastewater" directly into groundwater and indirectly into San Carlos Creek, surrounding tidal marshes, and the St. Johns River.
  • The state require immediate corrective action to halt and clean up the ongoing toxic contamination of ground and surface waters from NGS’s waste facilities.
  • Revoke DEP’s beneficial use exemption that allows JEA to sell “hazardous combustion residuals” from the plant to the public. The St. Johns Riverkeeper claims that exemption is “unlawful.”
  • Ensure that sufficient monitoring and reporting requirements are in place to evaluate ground and surface water pollution trends
  • Require the installation of a new cooling system at the plant
  • Mandate the implementation of interim, protective requirements at the plant’s cooling water intake system to reduce the velocity of intake water to reduce the entrapment of organisms until the new cooling system in on line.

The Northside Generating Station was first commissioned in 1966, according to JEA. It sits in an environmentally sensitive area surrounded by wetlands. The plant uses natural gas, fuel oil, coal and petrolium coke in three large steam units along with four small diesel-powered peaking units. 

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

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