How Can This Be True?

How Can This Be True?
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How Can This Be True?

The leader of an organization is supposed to motivate members to do the important work called for in their mission statement. Working to explore, enjoy, and protect our planet should not be a cynical or depressing exercise. “Grieving Greenies” turn off more people out in the real world than they inspire to take up the cause of protecting pristine nature.

There is so much that is right in this world in our country, our state, our bioregion. We should honor and celebrate those good things – like the fact that we in Northeast Florida live in the midst of a natural paradise.

But we can’t ignore the hard truth either. And the hard truth is that, when left unchecked, when left unmonitored, our government and private industry can absolutely, almost beyond belief, destroy and poison the world we live in, the world we want to entrust to our children, and to their children.

The spring-fed Fenholloway River winds from the little town of Perry in Florida’s panhandle down into the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the scenery along its banks remind one of Old Florida. But here are some shocking facts:

* The Fenholloway stinks horribly because the Buckeye pulp mill dumps 46 million gallons of polluted wastewater into the river every single day of the year.

* The river water which leaves the mill is a disgusting cola color and contains 99% wastewater.

* The Buckeye plant uses 2.7 million tons of trees a year and draws 42 million gallons of pure water every single day from the Floridian aquifer.

* The few species of fish that can survive in the river are mutants, with sex changes in the fish due to the pollution altering their endocrine systems.

* The local people of course do not swim or fish in the river and have been warned that their wells are contaminated. A 1989 study showed there were “massive groundwater contaminants” in the area and there are reputable claims of a high frequency of cancer cases.

* Where the Fenholloway dumps its pollution into the Gulf of Mexico there is a 17 square mile area that is virtually lifeless. Manatees avoid the river like the plague.

* The Buckeye plant has been operating without a valid permit since 1987 – and the state continues to extend the expired permit over protests of environmentalists.

* The Buckeye plant employs 650 people. That is not a misprint – 650 people, not 6,500 or 650,000 people.

The plant now wants to run a pipeline to carry its toxins directly into the Gulf of Mexico. Sound familiar? – Georgia-Pacific wants to carry its pollution by pipeline into our beloved St. Johns River.

“Dilution is the solution to pollution?” An administrative law judge just approved Georgia-Pacific’s plans which jeopardize Northeast Florida, just as state officials have approved Fenholloway’s destruction of a beautiful section of Northwest Florida.

As someone charged with a leadership responsibility in our community’s efforts to protect the natural world, how do I deal with the horror of the Fenholloway?

Thanks to a June 5, 2002 article by Tallahassee Florida Times-Union staffer Thomas Pfankuch, and my interview with Linda Young of the Florida Clean Water Network, for the basic facts used in this article.

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