Because we are small, the Ecology Party decided to focus on the environmental issues concerning two new nuclear reactors proposed for a greenfield site in rural Levy County. We have been accepted as an Intervener by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and are two years into the process and as a result we have been consumed by the Levy Nuclear Plant with no energy and time left over for party-building activities.
Please take a look around the rest of our website and if our focus resonates with you, register with your local supervisor of elections as an Ecology Party member and let others know about us. If you would like to know more about the Ecology Party, or join us, please sign up for our periodic announcements, or contact the State Executive Committee at the address and phone number at the bottom of this page.
On March 26th, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) that heard the Ecology Party/NIRS contention against building two nuclear reactors in rural Levy County issued their final ruling.
Unfortunately, Judges Karlin, Baratta, and Charbeneau ruled in favor of Progress Energy Florida and the NRC Staff,deciding that PEF and the NRC Staff hadprovided enoughresearch and analysis to supportNRC'sEnvironmental Impact Statementfor the reactors.
Despite PEF/NRC (we consider the two entities interchangeable) ignorance of karst (the porous local substrata that forms conduits which can be minute yet conduct huge volumes of water for great distances) and the fact the area is already under water-stress, the ASLB decided that PEF and the Staffcorrectly and adequately characterized the karst geologybeneath the site.The judges decided that we hadn't proven withdrawing 1.58 million gallons per day from the aquifer as well as 122 million gallons per day from the barge canal (reversing its flow) would irreparably harm the surrounding environment, including Big and Little King Springs.
Even worse, the ASLB decided that as-yet-undeveloped monitoring and mitigation measures to be entrusted to and carried out by SWFWMD and the State of Florida, would adequately protect the wetlands, endangered species, and adjacent water-users when adverse impacts inevitably occur.
For anyone who was in the courtroom, has read the transcript from the expert testimony hearing in Bronson, FL,* or read the newspaper articles on the hearing, this ruling is shocking not only for its total disregard of the evidence provided by our experts, but also for its reliance on the pitiful job that PEF/NRC Staff experts didof defending the EIS or showing that undeveloped mitigation measures could be successful for a project whose impacts were so poorly understood. At the hearing, it appeared clear that the judges comprehended our arguments and were dismayed by the poor site characterization done by the NRC/PEF.
Our experts, who all worked for rates far below their worth, included:
Dr. Sydney Bacchus, a noted hydroecologist who has studied this area extensively and written a multitude of peer-reviewed published articles related to environmental destruction from human extraction of water.
Dr. Tim Hazlett, an expert on water modeling in karst who showed that the methodology used by PEF/NRC was totally inadequate.
The expertise of Mr. Gareth Davies, a karst geologist, was also discounted by the judges, despite the fact that we showed one of the PEF geologists testified erroneously about the source of water-discharge measurements of the nearby Big and Little King Springs, and that the key NRC geologist volunteered at the hearing that he was "not an expert in Florida karst."
We were also fortunate to have had the written testimony of former adjacent water management district Director, David Still, who was in a position to saythat the local water management district would NOT protect the environment from excessive water usage; it is telling that he was not allowed to testify at the hearing.
It seems that despite their trenchant questioning and apparent dissatisfaction with PEF/NRC experts, the three judges were simply putting on a performance for the public watching in the courtroom. The decision they wrote is completely at odds with the convincing show they made. No wonder the PEF/NRC attorneys there seemed so smug and confident: apparently they understood that it was all a charade. Well, we were fooled.
Our experts and case were ably handled by committed lawyers who worked tirelessly for reduced rates. Lead attorney Ms. Diane Curran especially went above and beyond for us. Mr. Richard Webster, lawyer and hydrologist, was her invaluable co-counsel. Experienced with the NRC culture, they were notsurprised by the ASLB decisionbut were nonethelessdisappointed.
Although discouraged by and frankly, disgusted with, the decision, the Ecology Party is still considering an appeal to the actual Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The odds of a reversal from the industry-beholden Commission are nil; regulatory capture infects all our government agencies. An appeal may be required, however, if we choose to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if/when they issue a 404 permit.
We thank those who have supported our cause financially and spiritually throughout this four-year ordeal. Regardless of the outcome, this was a battle that we believe needed to be fought and we succeeded in bringing information to light that will be helpful in other environmental battles.
It is uncertain the nuke plant will ever be built. The waste-confidence decision guarantees no work on the plant until 2014. Costs have skyrocketed in the last four years, and the need for the power plant is also under assault, as is the early nuclear cost recovery tax.
Please take the time to express your outrage at the unfair early nuclear cost recovery tax levied on PEF and FPL ratepayers. That compelled payment to the power companies enables nuclear plants to be proposed. Rate and taxpayers are forced to shoulder the burden for risky investments unacceptable to private investors. Abolishment of that tax will be the stake in the heart of nuclear power in Florida.
Contact your state legislators and raise hell!
*For those interested, the transcripts for that hearing and the decision are available at the following links:
Hearing transcript day 1 plain.pdf
Hearingtranscript 2 plain.pdf
ByIvan Penn, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Thursday, November 1, 2012
BRONSON — Opponents of the proposed Levy County nuclear plant argue that neither the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff nor Progress Energy Florida adequately studied the project's impact on the environment.
During a hearing Wednesday before the Atomic Safety Licensing Board, the commission's staff and the utility may have proved their opponents right.
Under a battery of questions from the three-member board at the Levy County Courthouse, commission staff members and Progress experts admitted they had not performed tests on the area where the utility plans to dig supply wells on the south side of the nuclear plant site.
"I did not look specifically at the south property," Gerry Stirewalt, a commission witness, said during the hearing. "We looked at maps that were done on a regional scale. I didn't survey in detail … the south property."
Progress expert Jeffrey Lehnen gave similar testimony: "The data we don't have is the southern property."
Asked by the board why they didn't perform a comprehensive test on the south side of the site, Lehnen replied, "It seemed like a matter of timing."
Progress wants to build a $24billion nuclear plant on a 5,000-acre site in rural Levy County.
Approval of the federal operating license has cleared most hurdles but faced a challenge from a group of Floridians who formed the Ecology Party of Florida.
The Ecology Party, along with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a Maryland-based environmental group, argues that the project threatens to deplete groundwater to levels that could lead to devastating wildfires; induce sinkhole activity; lower water levels in wetlands, lakes and streams; and cause the loss of trees and wildlife, among other things. In particular, the group says drawing the groundwater would harm the Big King and Little King springs, which provide water for manatees.
Progress and the commission staff say the impact on groundwater and the environment in general will be "small." The utility proposes to withdraw 1.6 million gallons a day of groundwater and 80 million gallons a day from the Cross Florida Barge Canal.
The Levy site sits about 8 miles north of Progress' broken Crystal River plant — the utility's sole nuclear reactor in Florida. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's staff released its Final Environmental Impact Study on the Levy site in April, clearing it for nuclear plant construction.
But the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a division of the commission, determined that the Ecology Party made a valid challenge to the commission's findings.
A stream of button-downed, suited lawyers and experts rolled into tiny Bronson, the county seat of Levy County, about 20 miles west of Gainesville. Population: fewer than 1,200.
To some locals, the news of the visitors passing through town for two days of hearings paled in comparison to what they witnessed during the hearing Wednesday.
"There certainly is uncertainty as we state in our testimony," NRC staff member Dan Barnhurst said during the hearing.
"Would it be possible to characterize the level of uncertainty?" asked Alex Karlin, chairman of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. "What we have to decide here is whether this license should be issued."
The board can block Progress from receiving its operating license if the panel determines after this week's hearings that the Final Environmental Impact Study violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
Progress could appeal the board's decision to the full Nuclear Regulatory Commission or take corrective action. But both approaches could further delay the plant, which is projected to come online in 2024, eight years after its originally scheduled date.
To Lee McSherry, Wednesday's testimony from the commission's own staff that showed a lack of information was "a fatal flaw."
"The homework has not been done by (Progress) and the agency," said McSherry, a farmer from the nearby town of Archer. "That was obvious."
Ivan Penn can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 892-2332.
So would we.
Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated: November 15, 1:03 am)
THE ISSUE: Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearing raises significant questions about proposed nuclear power plant.
OUR OPINION: Better safe than sorry — now, and in the future.
"Which is more important, the real world or the model?"
That was the question posed by Judge Alex Karlin during a recent Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) hearing on Progress Energy's proposed nuclear plant in Levy County, and we couldn't phrase it any better.
At issue is a contention by environmental groups to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), produced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), of the proposed Progress Energy nuclear plant in Levy County.
The statement, the groups contend, grossly mischaracterizes and underestimates potential environmental damage to the region's waters and wetlands.
During the course of testimony at the hearing, questions raised by the judges gave credence to the groups' contentions. It was revealed that large portions of the FEIS — and the conclusions it reaches — were constructed via the use of extrapolated modeling data. Instead of going through the tedious, costly and time-consuming process of carefully gathering empirical data from the proposed plant's site, complex models were devised using previously existing measurements from a variety of sources, including the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Geological Survey.
As a result, there are large gaps in the data, especially for the site's overlooked southern parcel. Those gaps, oddly enough, are not being debated by either Progress Energy or the NRC; rather, the two argue that the models are good enough.
The potential damage posed by bungled estimates of environmental impact is irreparable, and it need not be. Successful completion of the project would be a boon to Progress and to the community, but it must not come at the unnecessary expense of regional natural resources. What's more, Progress — less so than the NRC — has a stake in accurate estimates. Firstly, approval of the project may very well prove to be contingent on the legitimacy of impact studies — if the judges' lines of questioning and responses to the answers they received are any indication of their mindsets, good enough for Progress and the NRC might not be good enough for the ASLB. Secondly, should something go horribly wrong and ecological destruction occur, Progress could feel it in its pocketbook — and leave itself vulnerable to legislators eager to capitalize on the inevitable ensuing populist outrage.
We can't stress this strongly enough: This is an extremely sensitive project, and should be considered as such by both Progress and the NRC. Statements by both parties at the hearing give us reason to believe Progress, at least, is not of the same mind. Progress counsel John H. O'Neill characterized the plant's estimated water use as "equivalent to a peanut farm or three golf courses," and characterizes the environmental groups' proposals as "really just research projects." Addressing data that multiple independent experts — and even the NRC — said may very well indicate sensitive karst formations at the site, O'Neill said claims to that effect were "worse than speculation. It is a dream. It's not there."
If proper surveying and estimation had been done, O'Neill could state that as fact and back it up with empirical data. As it is, it's opinion based on hypothetical models.
Though the NRC and Progress may not see matters this way, their opposition is doing them a favor. Bore the wells. Do the research. Fill in the gaps. Get this right, because you can't afford to get it wrong.
In case you were wondering, Karlin's question was posed to Vince Vermeul of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, an NRC staff member. His response?
"I would say the real world."
ByCraig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, November 25, 2012
North of Gainesville, a church camp once attracted thousands of visitors because it was built around the gushing waters of Hornsby Springs. Then the spring stopped flowing and the camp had to spend more than $1 million to build a water park to replace it. The old spring site is now so stagnant that it's frequently declared unfit for humans to swim in. In Silver Springs, where the water was once so clear it was as if the fish swam through air, there are now goopy mats of algae so thick that alligators can perch atop them. And in the Ocala National Forest, the gurgle of fresh water pouring out of popular Silver Glen Spring is slowly growing saltier. Deep beneath the ground we stand on, below the strip malls and the condos and the lush green of the golf courses, runs a river of water that makes life in Florida possible. The underground aquifer rushes through Swiss cheese caverns, its hidden flow bubbling up to the surface in Florida's roughly 1,000 springs — the greatest concentration of springs on Earth.
A century ago Florida's gin-clear springs drew presidents and millionaires and tourists galore who sought to cure their ailments by bathing in the healing cascades. Now the springs tell the story of a hidden sickness, one that lies deep within the earth:
All of it — particularly the saltiness — is a dark omen for the future of the state's water supply.
"It's the very same water we drink that's coming out of the springs," said Doug Stamm, author of the book Florida's Springs. "When they start to deteriorate, that's the water we drink deteriorating too."
Yet a state-sponsored effort to save the springs, launched by then-Gov. Jeb Bush 12 years ago, ended last year under Gov. Rick Scott. Groups drafting plans to restore some of the most important springs were disbanded because they lost their funding.
Faced with a backlash this year from Florida residents who cherish their springs, the state's top environmental regulator is now touting a renewed effort, even amid agency layoffs. But Bob Knight of the Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville says most of it appears to be "more in the category of pork barrel projects ... with questionable benefits to springs."
Springs once burbled up all across the state. But in South Florida they were wiped out decades ago by the ditching and draining of the landscape as well as overpumping of the aquifer. The ones that remain are in the less populated region north of Interstate 4. One former state official called them "the Everglades of North Florida."
As with the Everglades, the springs' problems begin with human alterations to their flow.
The water coming out of Florida's springs "is a blend of different ages," explained Brian Katz of the U.S. Geological Survey. "Some went in days or weeks ago," while some of it has been underground for decades.
That means that when the rain pours down, dribbling into fissures in the earth that connect to the aquifer, the springs appear to have a normal flow. It's water that just went into the ground and is now coming back out.
During the dry season, though, the older underground rivers that should keep the springs flowing year-round no longer spurt upward to become what Marjory Stoneman Douglas once called "bowls of liquid light."
Jason Polk, a geoscience professor at Western Kentucky University, has been diving in Florida's springs and sinkholes since 2004, doing research in underground caverns in Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Marion counties. He has seen stark changes over the years.
"You go in a cave where there's no longer any water at all," he said. "Places you used to swim through, now you have to walk through. It's a permanent decline. It's just gone."
Where did it go? The evidence points to too much pumping of fresh water — millions of gallons a day sprayed on suburban lawns and farmers' fields, run through showers and flushed down toilets, turned into steam to crank turbines for electricity, or siphoned into plastic bottles for sale around the country.
Floridians use 158 gallons of water a day per person, about 50 more than the national average. Meanwhile agriculture draws more water out of the ground for irrigation than any state east of the Mississippi. As a result, between 1970 and 1995, withdrawals from the aquifer increased more than 50 percent and by 2005 hit 4.2 billion gallons a day.
As pumping grew, the flow from many springs fell. In 2006, one of the state's most powerful ones, Spring Creek Springs near Tallahassee, abruptly reversed its flow. It has never completely recovered, say local residents.
A troubling glimpse of the future comes from Hornsby Spring, northwest of Gainesville. In 1953, the Seventh Day Adventist Church bought it and built Camp Kulaqua on the 600 acres around it. The camp attracted 50,000 people a year, many of them eager to plunge into the spring's gushing depths.
Twenty years ago, "you used to could swim straight down 80 feet," recalled Theresa Sroka, a former camper who's now Kulaqua's marketing director. "There was a floating dock in the middle and the lifeguard would sit on it, because it was so deep."
But then the flow began slowing, and in 2003 it stopped.
"It became a stagnant pond," said camp director Phil Younts. The water quality fell below what the health department required for swimming, so "we had to bus kids to other places to swim."
Ultimately the camp paid $1.6 million to build a water park to replace the spring. Sometimes campers can still jump into the spring bowl, now less than 50 feet deep. Most days, though, the spring that was the centerpiece of the camp is off limits.
That hasn't happened to the biggest springs — yet. But Jeff Peterson, a cave diver who has explored many of the springs, has seen worrisome changes in Weeki Wachee Springs.
When he began exploring it in 1994, the flow was so powerful no diver could go very far. But around 2007 the pressure dropped to where exploration was so easy his team could go a mile down one tunnel.
When he hands his findings over to state water officials, he said, "They say thank you" but that's all. "They're trying to determine how much we can tolerate dragging that thing down before the ecosystem falls down."
While the Bush springs initiative was still alive, the Florida Geological Survey began pulling together its first comprehensive report on the subject in 30 years.
The report, which came out in 2009, surveyed data from 1991 to 2003. It documented the rise of pollution and the fall of flows. But the geologists didn't anticipate the most startling finding.
"The most unexpected conclusion," said Jonathan Arthur, the state's chief geologist, "was the saline indicators increasing in the springs."
This saltiness, similar to the saltwater intrusion that cost Pinellas County its original water supply wells in the 1980s, isn't just creeping in along the coast, such as in Chassahowitzka Springs and Homosassa Springs. It's also showing up far inland, including at Silver Glen Springs in Ocala National Forest.
"Saltwater encroachment is a hugely significant issue," the report noted, putting the words "hugely significant" in italics. It pointed out changing fresh water into salt water "can adversely affect the long-term term sustainability of Florida's water resources."
How does this happen? Florida's freshwater aquifer is not the only liquid roaring through the ground. It floats atop the remnants of an ancient sea that's trying to push its way upward. Until recently, that salty sea was held in check by the massive lens of fresh water above it, Arthur said.
"We're seeing the early stages of a shrinking of the freshwater lens of water in the aquifer," he said.
If Florida's freshwater bubble continues to shrink, "we'd have saltwater intrusion under the whole state. That's a nightmare scenario," said Knight of the Florida Springs Institute. "The evidence is there that we're changing our aquifer."
The geologists made a number of recommendations. They called for everything from increased monitoring statewide to figuring out how to change land use practices to cut back on the pollution. They sent their report to a host of state agencies.
However, Arthur said, "I am not aware of any formal action on the recommendations." The report "did raise eyebrows of some water managers in terms of importance," he said, but "there was a great desire to see what does the rest of this decade look like."
So his staff began work on a sequel, looking at data from 2003 to now. So far, he said, "the preliminary results indicate that the patterns are continuing."
However, as the springs' woes worsen, work on the second report is moving slowly.
"It is unfunded pretty much at this point," Arthur explained.
Before Disney and the beaches became major draws, springs were the state's biggest tourist attraction. They still lure plenty of visitors — thanks to taxpayers.
Beginning in 1949, the state has acquired 17 springs for its state park system. A 2003 study by Florida State found that four of the largest ones — Wakulla, Ichetucknee, Homosassa and Volusia Blue — each brought in $70 million annually, and each created 259 jobs. The impact "was similar to what spring training does, but all year long," said study co-author Mark Bonn.
So if those springs dry up, it's not just an environmental crisis — it's an economic catastrophe. Look what happened to the town of White Springs, north of Lake City.
In the early 1900s, so many wealthy tourists flooded White Springs seeking a medical cure from its waters that 13 hotels and a railroad line catered to them. Among the visitors: presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
The owner of the mineral spring built a four-story "spring house" around it to give patients access for their treatments for rheumatism, indigestion, dandruff and insomnia. The spring house still stands, but visitors are rare. The last hotel closed this year and the spring itself is a glorified mudhole.
"It started flowing less and would quit," said Dennis Price, a freelance geologist who lives in White Springs. "Then it would flow for a while and quit. People got so used to it that it became the norm. So when it quit for good, it wasn't the tragedy it should've been. We assumed it was part of the natural order, but it wasn't natural."
Pumping from a nearby phosphate mine drained so much water from the aquifer that the spring stopped its regular flow in the 1970s. Since then, whenever enough rain cascaded down into sinkholes and other fissures, the spring perked back up again — during flooding in 1998, it rose 35 feet and topped the railing around the top floor of the spring house — only to die back down afterward. There has been little flow since 1999.
But residents of White Springs are convinced their spring can be reborn. The phosphate mine has cut its water use. Mayor Helen Mills is trying to convince the state to clamp down on the other people slurping water from the aquifer, particularly businesses in Jacksonville she contends could get their water from the ocean or the St. Johns River.
"It's taken eons for the Florida aquifer to be formed," Mills said. "What they're doing is causing irreparable damage. ... We're a harbinger for what's going to happen to the rest of Central Florida."
Where water still emerges from springs, in many places it's now murky, plagued with nitrate pollution.
The nitrates, studies have shown for the past 20 years, come mostly from excess fertilizer, cattle feces and leaky septic tanks. It washes into the springs every time it rains. In Fanning Springs, in a state park in Levy County, the nitrate level is 100 times what it's supposed to be.
"Springs occur in areas where the aquifer is close to the surface, which means it's susceptible to contamination," explained Mark Stewart, a geology professor at the University of South Florida.
Polk of Western Kentucky University said he tested for nitrate pollution in every spring and sinkhole he investigated and "pretty much all of them had high levels."
The nitrates spur algae growth. The blooms started with a few wisps here and there 20 years ago, and now it's so thick it covers the sandy bottom at Silver Springs and coats the bright green eel grass in Rainbow Springs with a thick, brown fuzz. In Fanning Springs there's so much algae that virtually no other vegetation survives.
This is not just a cosmetic problem. The algae, a species called Lyngbya wollei, can be toxic to humans. In 2002 state officials began keeping a running tally of all the swimmers, kayakers, anglers and tubers who brushed up against it in state parks and then complained of suffering from rashes, hives, nausea, itching and asthma attacks. That overall tally has passed 140 reported incidents.
Florida officials began worrying about the dismaying trends in the early 1990s. Jim Stevenson, a state Department of Environmental Protection biologist as well as a cave diver, wondered why clear-as-glass Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee — famous for its glass-bottom boat tours — sometimes filled with murky water.
At one time, he said, "it was one of the best places in Florida to see birds and wildlife." But now, "they rarely ever have a day when they could give a glass-bottom boat tour anymore."
So Stevenson convened a group to try to figure out what was happening, and soon he had convened a second one to investigate changes at Ichetucknee Springs, a popular place for tubing.
Five months after being sworn in as governor in 1999, Bush took a canoe trip down the spring-fed Ichetucknee River with newly appointed DEP director David Struhs. Their guide: Stevenson.
"I don't know that either of them had ever seen a spring before," Stevenson said. "I just explained to (Bush) what was happening to the spring. The timing was good. They wanted to do something environmentally significant – and they did."
Bush and Struhs launched the Florida Springs Initiative and put it in Stevenson's hands. He pulled together experts from government, academia and industry. They recommended more than 100 ways to protect the springs, covering everything from legislation to land-use changes.
Bush made sure they had money to do the job, too, Stevenson said.
"In 2000 he gave us $2.5 million a year for springs protection — the first time Florida had spent money on springs protection," Stevenson, now retired, recalled.
Over the next decade, the state spent nearly $25 million. Groups were set up to study the biggest springs and suggest solutions tailored to their history, location and resources.
There seemed to be some hope for Florida's springs. It didn't last.
The biggest achievement of the Bush initiative, Stevenson said, was the state bought land to protect a lot of the springsheds — the area around the springs where runoff flows into the aquifer through sinkholes and other openings. That kept it from being paved over or converted to some polluting use.
The rest of the recommendations failed to get much traction in the Legislature.
A 2008 legislative report noted that "very few regulatory measures protecting springs have been adopted, yet several studies have indicated that nutrient pollution in spring discharge continues to rise."
That year, the DEP concluded the limit on nitrates in springs should be 0.35 milligrams per liter of water. Of the approximately 50 springs the agency was monitoring, three-fourths exceeded that level.
"The question is, will we be able to do something before the springs are all so polluted it won't matter any more," said former Republican state senator Burt Saunders of Naples, who sponsored a 2008 springs protection bill that failed. "In our current environment, it's unlikely."
The one measure the Legislature did pass came in 2010 — an effort to clean up leaking septic tanks. There are about 2.6 million septic tanks in the state, half of them more than 30 years old.
"People don't know what happens underground," said Lee Constantine, who as a Republican state senator from Altamonte Springs sponsored the septic tank bill. "It's an impending disaster."
After septic tank owners objected to the $150 inspections, though, legislators repealed the law this spring. Leading the effort to overturn it: incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, who originally voted for the inspections.
"By protecting these people from cleaning up their own mess, they are going to cost all of us a lot more," Constantine warned. "We are destroying Florida's heritage and passing on problems to our children for our own bottom line."
At the start of Scott's administration, the springs initiative was disbanded. That doomed the groups working on plans to heal individual springs. In June 2011, DEP officials told the groups to shut down.
"Due to reductions in the state budget brought on by hard economic times, Springs Initiative funding was not allocated by the legislature for fiscal year 2011/2012," the DEP letter said.
Since September, the Times has repeatedly asked to interview Scott and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. about how they are dealing with the springs, to no avail.
However, in May, Vinyard visited the Times editorial board to talk about a variety of issues. When asked what his department was doing about saving the springs, the only initiative he named was moving the Florida Geological Survey from one part of DEP to another.
This week, in response to repeatedTimes'questions, Vinyard's agency released a statement promising to ask legislators for $3 million next year for "springs-specific restoration projects."
Water issues are largely the purview of the state's five water management districts, which are in charge of issuing pumping permits and seldom reject one. Those decisions tend to be based on the impact of a single user and not on the cumulative impact of pulling so much water out of the ground, say former water district employees.
In May 2011, Mills, the White Springs mayor, and other officials and activists from the Suwannee River region urged the St. Johns River Water Management District to reject a permit that would allow the Jacksonville Electric Authority to take 163 million gallons out of the aquifer every day by 2031, up from the current 118 million gallons per day.
The Suwannee River Water Management District's then-executive director, David Still, opposed the permit too. Like Mills, he blamed the utility for taking away a lot of the spring flow: "It's JEA pumping the hell out of the aquifer.''
But he said top DEP officials muzzled him from speaking out at the final hearing, and the utility got its permit. He was subsequently pushed out of his job by the Scott administration as part of a massive shakeup and budget cutback of all five districts.
Before that happened, though, Still persuaded his cohorts at the St. Johns water district to ask scientists from the National Research Council for an impartial, nonpolitical study of what was happening to the aquifer and springs.
But after the council agreed to do the $400,000 study, the two water districts "were not able to come up with the funds," said Jeff Jacobs of the council.
Still scoffs at that. "They can fund what they want to fund," he said. "There just wasn't the will to do it."
The reason: If groundwater pumping is to blame, then the water districts will have to find other, more expensive sources of water, such as desalination.
But when springs disappeared in the past, Still pointed out, overpumping was named as the culprit.
Like many of Florida's springs, Kissengen Spring in Polk County was once a gathering place for a community, a place for swimming and socializing. In 1930, it gushed out 30 million gallons of water a day. Twenty years later, it dried up completely.
Investigations determined that it disappeared because its water was being sucked up by Polk's phosphate mines. Over the succeeding decades, the phosphate industry found ways to cut back its water use, but Kissengen didn't come back.
In 2002, not long after the start of Bush's initiative, state officials wondered if there was a way to revive Kissengen. Ron Basso of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly called Swiftmud, studied the moribund spring and concluded it could happen. But the only way would be to reduce agricultural and residential water use — which had grown since the 1970s to absorb what the phosphate industry cut back — by 60 percent.
"That's just to get you back to just a trickle," Basso said.
After hearing his report, Swiftmud officials dropped the idea of reviving Kissengen.
More recently, though, staffers at two water agencies have contended that pumping is not affecting the springs as much as everyone thought.
In a September report, St. Johns River scientists contended that the key to Silver Springs' loss of flow was a lack of rainfall and excess vegetation, not the 2,500 permits authorizing the collective removal of 363 million gallons of water per day from the aquifer.
Then, in October, a Swiftmud scientist said computer modeling showed drought and sea level rise were the primary cause of a loss of flow in the Chassahowitzka spring and river region.
"If use isn't the issue," environmental activist Cathy Harrelson asked Swiftmud officials last month, "then why do you ever restrict lawn watering?" She got no answer.
The St. Johns and Swiftmud findings run counter to a 2011 study by the U.S. Geological Survey of the spring-fed Ichetucknee's flow which blamed pumping, some of it from far away.
The river's lowest flows during most recent drought periods were lower than during droughts of the 1950s, even though there was more rainfall during the more recent drought. A similar pattern held true during high rainfall periods — the flow was lower than in the 1950s. That and other evidence pointed to pumping from as far away as Jacksonville that dropped the aquifer by as much as 90 feet in some places.
As an engineer specializing in hydrology who had worked at the Suwannee district since 1995, Still is among those skeptical that anything but pumping is to blame for the springs' lost water.
"These agencies are relying more on models than on the fact that you don't have an unlimited amount of water in the aquifer," he said. The problem, he contended, is politics: "If you've got a governor in place who hates water management, why should we protect springs?"
Earlier this year, a group of environmental advocates led by Estus Whitfield — who was a gubernatorial aide to Democrats Reubin Askew and Bob Graham, as well as Republicans Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush — rounded up 15,000 signatures on a petition demanding the state do more to protect Silver, Rainbow and other popular springs.
They took the petition to Tallahassee to hand it to Scott, but had to settle for Vinyard.
But before they could hand over the petition, Whitfield said, Vinyard handed them something of his own -- a three-page letter that contended the DEP was doing more for springs than ever before, devoting $11 million to "restoration, outreach, monitoring and research in our springs."
However, the head of DEP's division of environmental assessment and restoration, Drew Bartlett, said in a recent interview that about $8 million of that went for a statewide pollution monitoring system — not for restoration, outreach or research.
Of the rest, $900,000 is aimed at providing "better fertilizer technology" to farmers in North Florida, $300,000 is for eliminating a sewer discharge near Silver Springs and $1.1 million is supposed to eliminate a sewage spray field now polluting Kings Bay in Citrus County. Another $700,000 has not been earmarked, a DEP spokesman said.
Knight contended most of what was listed were "pork barrel projects that pay farmers and public utilities to do things they should be required to do with their own money."
He was skeptical of any real improvement, noting that the Silver Spring project merely moved a sewage sprayfield from one part of the springshed to another "with no public documentation of any water quality benefit."
The Vinyard letter boasted of making "meaningful progress" over the previous 18 months. However, when Bartlett was asked to name which springs were showing progress as a result of recent DEP efforts, the two he named — Wekiva and Wakulla — turned out to be showing improvement thanks to efforts put forward by the Bush-launched initiative.
The Vinyard letter also said the agency is now setting "nutrient reduction requirements" for Silver, Wakulla, Rainbow, Jackson Blue and Weeki Wachee. Whitfield was unimpressed because the requirements appear to call for no immediate action and nothing but voluntary reductions.
"Their contention is they're doing great," Whitfield said. But from what he could see, all DEP wanted to do was study the problem some more.
"Study, study, study, study — but at what point does it trigger an enforcement action?" he asked.
So far, Whitfield said, that three-page letter is "the only response we've ever gotten from anybody in the administration."
To Still, that's no surprise. Florida's officials won't try to fix the springs because Floridians regard their water supply as abundant and cheap, when the fact is it's neither. Until that attitude changes, he said, the springs will not be rescued.
"We don't care," he said. "We say we care. We give it lip service. But we don't care. The laws have allowed the degradation of those springs, and I don't think we as a society are going to get it changed."
Times staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached email@example.com.
ByIvan Penn, Times Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, October 30, 2012
With no expert witnesses, no high-powered lawyers, no massive public rallies, the Ecology Party of Florida seemed to have little in its arsenal to battle a juggernaut like Progress Energy Florida.
Even so, convinced of its cause to combat the utility's proposed Levy County nuclear plant, the environmental group continued since February 2009 pleading with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to carefully review the project's impact on wetlands, floodplains and special aquatic sites.
A confidential donor heard them. Providing an undisclosed amount of money, the donor helped with what the group could not afford on its own and breathed new life into a challenge that is the last major hurdle the utility faces from the public before it can obtain its federal operating license.
When the Ecology Party appears today before the commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, it will bring the weight of a former water management district director, a former state environmental protection official with a doctorate including specialties in hydrology and ecology, and a prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer, who regularly handles nuclear cases. Without the new team, the group would have had to rely on mostly supporters who aren't lawyers and don't carry the lofty professional credentials.
The Ecology Party promotes environmental, feminist, fair-trade, nonviolent and animal rights issues. Its website states that it has spent about $25,000 on representation leading to and for the hearing, with the bulk of the expenses coming after the group picked up the expert support last spring.
Progress Energy Florida and its new parent company, Duke Energy, still have deeper pockets, but now the battle won't appear so much like a few recreational gunmen against a professional army.
"I would have been slitting my wrist if I had to do this alone," said Cara Campbell, chairwoman of the Florida Ecology Party.
The Ecology Party, formed in 2008 with about 125 members, also is backed by the nonprofit environmental organization the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a Maryland-based group.
In its case today, the Ecology Party and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service will argue that the environmental studies by Progress and federal analysts failed to adequately consider the full impact of the proposed two-reactor nuclear plant the utility wants to build on 5,000 acres in Levy County.
The project, the group says, threatens to deplete groundwater to levels that could lead to devastating wildfires; induce sinkhole activity; lower water levels in wetlands, lakes and streams; and cause the loss of trees and wildlife, among other things. In particular, the group says drawing the groundwater would harm the Big King and Little King springs, which provide water for manatees.
In addition, using 80 million gallons of water from the Cross Florida Barge Canal will draw saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico as far as 9 miles inland up to the reactor site for cooling towers, endangering freshwater habitats.
"The area of the proposed (nuclear plant) and surrounding vicinity is a highly complex and sensitive ecological area where plants and animals have evolved to depend upon natural seasonal fluctuations and periods of drought," Sydney Bacchus, a hydroecologist with Applied Environmental Services, said in written testimony for the hearing. "They are not adapted to the results of man-induced alterations."
Added Campbell: Progress is "fighting with your rate money to destroy your aquifer. They haven't done the studies they need to do. There's no way for them to know what will happen once they start sucking the water out."
Progress Energy argues that the water demands of the proposed nuclear plant are minimal. For example, the project proposes to draw about 1.6 million gallons per day of groundwater — the equivalent of what Nestle had asked for in recent years for water bottling operations in Madison and Jefferson counties — and as much as 5.8 million gallons for short periods, a fraction of the regional flow within the Upper Floridan Aquifer, from where the utility would draw water.
"The direct, indirect and cumulative effects on local and regional water resources from active groundwater withdrawals during operation of the (plant) are small," Jeffrey Lehnan, a hydroecologist hired by Progress Energy, wrote in response to Bacchus' testimony.
In addition, Kevin Robertson, a fire ecology research scientist, stated in his written testimony that in his opinion, the amount of water drawn for the nuclear plant is too small to increase wildfires.
"There is no credible scientific link between predicted levels of dewatering … due to the construction and operation of the (plant) and an increase in wildfire frequency," Robertson said.
At a public hearing before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in January, dozens of the Levy project's opponents spoke out against the plant, noting the impact on the Floridan Aquifer and the Cross Florida Barge Canal as the utility draws water and digs 100 feet into the ground to lay the foundation for the plant. Board members had not seen the kind of opposition raised at that hearing in other cases.
"I've been doing this for eight years, and this is the largest number of people who have come forward," administrative Judge Alex S. Karlin said at the conclusion of the January hearing.
In addition to environmental concerns, the Levy project would be the most costly nuclear plant in U.S. history at $24 billion. It isn't expected to come online until at least 2024.
Progress says the plant is needed to meet future electricity demand and to diversify its sources of energy in Florida.
But even if Progress wins the environmental challenge, the utility will have to wait at least until federal regulators develop guidelines for disposing of nuclear waste before the license is issued — a process expected to take at least two years.
Because Progress' Crystal River plant — currently its sole nuclear reactor in Florida — is broken and may never return to service, the utility says it faces an overwhelming dependence on natural gas. By 2015, Progress' electricity production from natural gas could reach 76 percent.
While gas prices are at historic lows because of an enormous supply of domestic natural gas, Progress and the state worry that rates could spike because the fuel's cost has been volatile in the past.
Campbell, the Ecology Party chairwoman, said all of the concerns about Levy — from cost to environmental — show the project should not move forward.
"I feel great about our case," Campbell said. "I just hope the political pressures on the boards don't outweigh the common sense of saving the environment."
Ivan Penn can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 892-2332.
If you go The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a division of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, will meet at 9 a.m. today at the Levy County Courthouse, 355 W Court St. in Bronson, to hear environmental arguments against Progress Energy Florida's proposed Levy County nuclear plant. The hearings are expected to last two days.
April 11, 2012
The Ecology Party desperately needs your help to fight two new nuclear reactors slated for rural Florida. The Ecology Party of Florida (www.ecologyparty.org) and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (www.nirs.org) have been successfully fighting two Progress Energy reactors slated for rural and economically depressed Levy County for 3 years.
Our contention asserts that construction and operation of these reactors will cause substantial and irreversible harm to the local environment including wetlands, surface water, and the critical Floridan aquifer that provides drinking water for everyone living in this part of Florida. Our hydroecological contention admitted by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) is the broadest environmental contention ever admitted. Now we need money to pay experts to testify to support our case.
Primarily, our contention addresses the impact of using 1.58 MILLION gallons per day from the aquifer (or up to 5.8 MILLION, for short periods), as well as drawing so much water from the Cross Florida Barge Canal (CFBC), that it would become as salty as the ocean. The impacts include but aren’t limited to:
1. Destruction of wetlands by depleting the aquifer in the area and altering historic sheet-flow. Levy is in an area of karst, a porous geologic formation that magnifies the impact of dewatering.
2. Reducing or eliminating the natural springs in the area, including the Big King and Little King springs. Many of these springs appear near the CFBC, and provide fresh water necessary for manatees who use the canal.
3. Salt drift caused by using salt water to cool the reactor. It is impossible to remove all the salt from the cooling water, and the resulting plume of salty vapor will harm the local vegetation.
4. Changing the salinity of the estuary surrounding the CFBC at the Gulf of Mexico. By drawing 80 million gallons per day from the CFBC, Progress will draw seawater 9 miles inland all the way up to the reactor site. This would obviously stop all the fresh water that now goes to the Gulf, and would cause permanent harm to the brackish habitat.
5. Ignoring the effect of climate change, which, according to NRC documents, will result in drier conditions in Levy County, making the effects of dewatering even more harmful.
Progress Energy has announced delays in the construction and activation of the Levy nukes, but is still pursuing Federal licensing good for 40 years. If we can prove the disastrous results of building and operating this facility, we may be able to stop them, thereby saving the precious waters of the Nature Coast and the life that depends upon them. In addition, this could save Progress ratepayers BILLIONS of dollars to required by the early nuclear cost recovery program. The final hearing on this issue is set for October/ November 2012.
PLEASE consider a donation to aid us in this fight. For a tax deductible donation, please make cheques out to NIRS, mark in the memo as “Levy Intervention” and mail to:
Ecology Party of Florida
641 SW 6th Ave
Ft Lauderdale, FL 33315
You may make the cheque to the Ecology Party if you don’t care about it being tax-deductible. If you have questions, please contact Cara Campbell, Chair, Ecology Party of Florida, at 954-525-4522 email@example.com
Levy County (1 & 2) Nuclear License Intervention Expected Expenses 2012, final year
Written work $3,000
Written work $3,000
Written work already paid
Biologist Endangered Species
Written work $2000
Written work $2000
Experts prior to Fall Hearing:$10,000
Experts at Oral Arguments: $5,000 (plus travel- see below)
Most Legal consultation has been donated in full
Specialist legal consultation for pro se work prior to hearing@$200 per hour
NIRS Staff Time for Balance of Case
Average 1/4 time + minimal overhead March -- October $ 9,400
Travel Expenses for Autumn Hearing (Two nights in Levy County area)
$600 per expert (4) $2,400
$200 per intervener (2 or 3) $600
$600 per attorney (1) if representation is chosen $600
Travel Total $3,600
Legal Representation- To date this case has been pro se, fought by non-lawyer members of the Ecology Party of Florida and NIRS, thus saving thousands of dollars in attorney's fees. With sufficient monetary support, it would make sense, as we enter the evidentiary hearing phase, to retain an experienced attorney to take over the final push. Estimates for the real pros are $200 to $250 an hour. A top attorney has offered to cut fees in half, with a cap at 200 hours, putting full representation leading to and at the hearing in the range of $25,000. NIRS and the Ecology Party have achieved remarkable success on a shoestring budget. But as we all know, in a courtroom, the availability of experts and great representation can make the difference between JUSTICE and the LAW.
Thank you for your consideration. Any money you donate will give us more time to spend on the fight rather than on fundraising. Without your help to fund experts, our two organizations simply do not have the required resources to mount a winning argument. This is your fight too, for we all live downwind!
January 12, 2012Public Meetings
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is holding public meetings on the proposed Levy plant. As reported at Ocala.com, “The challenge (to the nuclear plant proposal) is that construction and the operation of the nuclear plant would be detrimental ... devastating to the environment around Levy County,” said Cara Campbell of the Ecology Party of Florida, one of the organizations that filed a challenge with the ASLB." The entire article can be read at Ocala.com.
A recent Synapse Energy Economics report, "Bigger Risks, Better Alternatives: An Examination of Two Nuclear Energy Projects in the U.S,"can be downloaded here. The report was prepared for Union of Concerned Scientists; it evaluates the economics of nuclear at the Levy and Vogtle (in GA) sites and has great data on how efficiency and renewables can negate any need for nuclear power. The report gives specific figures for both Florida and Georgia.
This article in Living Green online magazine is an overview of that report.
Cara Campbell, chair of the Florida Ecology Party an unstinting critic of both the nuclear-power industry and what she calls "captive regulators" at the NRC, says, "The only thing that is preventing a Fukushima-level disaster in this country is luck -- dumb luck."
"We have to remember that it was not the earthquake but the flooding that caused the problems at Fukushima by inundating the generators and fuel and precluding cooling.
"South Floridians are only lucky Hurricane Andrew didn't come ashore a bit farther north and cause the same sort of disaster at Turkey Point," she said.
Campbell said America's aging nuclear plants "were designed to last about 30 to 40 years, but are routinely allowed to operate 60 years. No doubt, the NRC will license them for longer if the industry screams at losing money by shutting down.
"Do we want to trust the nuclear industry's and the government's assurances the way the people of Japan misplaced their trust?" she asks.
Read the whole article on the Sunshine News blog. Kenric Ward, Japan Syndrome: NRC on Hot Seat Over Nuclear Plant Safety, August 3, 2011.
The Ecology Party of Florida has uncovered a major conflict of interest with an Army Corps of Engineers contractor investigating the impacts of phosphate mining in Florida. Read the Ecology Party's press release here, followed by a link to Florida media coverage of this exposé.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 29, 2011
Conflict of Interest Discovered for Army Corps of Engineers' Phosphate Mining Areawide Environmental Impact Statement Contractor:
The Ecology Party of Florida has discovered a direct conflict of interest with CH2M Hill, the engineering firm awarded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) contract for preparing the Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) on phosphate mining. The AEIS is supposed to determine all of the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of phosphate mining in Florida, including groundwater pirated from the Everglades watershed by the phosphate mining companies.
One of the adverse impacts of phosphate mining is that a hazardous form of fluoride is produced as one of the mining by-products. Instead of properly disposing of this hazardous waste, phosphate mining companies such as Mosaic, one of the companies with mines being evaluated under the AEIS, "dispose" of the hazardous fluoride by selling it to be dumped into municipal water systems throughout the US as fluoridation of our tap water.
"While preparing comments for the Army Corps' initial public comment period regarding issues to be addressed in the AEIS we discovered that the Army privatized its water and wastewater systems at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in 2007 in a 50-year deal with CH2M Hill. In that deal CH2M Hill produces fluoridated water for the Army's 101st Airborne Division and any other military personnel at Fort Campbell," says Cara Campbell, Chair of the Ecology Party of Florida.
"That arrangement means CH2M Hill is using the Army as a lucrative market for the hazardous fluoride produced by the mining companies that the Army Corps hired CH2M Hill to evaluate in the AEIS," Campbell explained. "If that sounds convoluted, that's because it is, and in our opinion, that conflict of interest makes it impossible for CH2M Hill to produce an unbiased AEIS. Therefore, we have requested that the Army Corps select another contractor to administer the AEIS," says Campbell.
Ecology Party Treasurer Gary Hecker adds, "In addition to that conflict of interest, CH2M Hill also is the contractor for water utilities in Florida, like the City of Cocoa, that fluoridate municipal water, then dispose of that fluoridated water into our streams, lakes and coastal waters or inject it into our aquifer. CH2M Hill, for example, was contracted by Miami-Dade to inject fluoridated sewage effluent into the aquifer. The corporation also has been awarded contracts for designing, modeling, constructing and/or monitoring engineered approaches marketed as "alternative" water supplies such as "aquifer storage and recovery" (ASR) and excavated pits known as "reservoirs" in areas of Florida where natural water resources have been depleted or contaminated by mining, such as the Tampa Bay area "reservoir" which is located in the phosphate mining area. Clearly these additional conflicts further underscore the impossibility of having such a company evaluate mining impacts in an unbiased way."
Information regarding the AEIS for phosphate mining is posted at:
Press Inquiries: Cara Campbell (954-525-4522) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: The Bradenton Times picked up this news release.
The Ecology Party is horrified by the events in Japan and we have been responding to reporters who are finally taking an interest in our opposition to the proposed Levy nukes and to nuclear power/weapons/radiation in general. What has happened in Japan is our worst nightmare come to pass but we cannot say we are shocked. Nuclear plants can be engineered to the nth degree but it will always be impossible to control nature, human error and the myriad of unknowable things that can go wrong. When something does go wrong with nuclear the potential and real outcomes are just too terrible and the effects too long-lasting. Fallout and radiation releases don't stay localized. What gives any country the right to endanger the health of the entire globe and all its inhabitants?
We are in touch with organizations around the world where leaders have acted far more responsibly than our own. It's time to call for a global moratorium on nuclear power!
Below are some of the best sources for up to date and honest information, not the propaganda being disseminated by the stakeholders in nuclear power, which include the NRC, the power companies, most nuclear physicists, the Energy Secretary and the President, who has long been in thrall to the nuclear industry and STILL wants to give them 56 billion of our tax dollars!
Here is a wonderful article, perhaps the best of hundreds we've read, on the Japanese tragedy:
NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE IN JAPAN
LIFTING THE VEIL OF NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE AND COVER-UP
A Doomsday Scenario Unfolds With Characteristic Foolishness by Keith Harmon Snow
Please see these for breaking information and general nuke info:
http://www.llrc.org/ (Information on low level radiation from coming fallout)
http://www.cnic.jp/english/ - (Citizens' Nuclear Information Center-Japan)
http://www.epa.gov/narel/radnet/(Radiation monitoring in the US)
Recent news story mentions the Ecology Party: Michael Sasso, Japan's Nuclear Tragedy Turns Eyes To Florida's Industry, The Tampa Tribune website, March 14, 201
Our newest press release - another legal victory - is dated Feb. 7 2011. See all press releases here.If you would like to know more about the Ecology Party, or join us, please contact the State Executive Committee at the address and phone number below.
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