Ichetucknee Cement Plant
Protestors outside of the Florida Springs Conference on Thursday, February 10, 2000 wanted the DEP to know that the public opposes the construction of a cement plant on the Ichetucknee River. Inside of the Sheraton Gainesville Hotel, the DEP, local representatives, and experts on Florida waterways were discussing how best to protect Florida's springs. However, ironically, the DEP, just a few weeks before, approved an air permit for the construction of a cement plant 3.5 miles away from the beloved Ichetucknee River. It seems to me and to about 10 other protestors that the conference was nothing but public-relations lip service.
In reality, the DEP isn't protecting Florida springs, it is only serving as a smokescreen between big business and nature lovers. Both Jeb! and the DEP originally denied the air permit because paving contractor Anderson/Columbia has a bad environmental track record. Anderson/Columbia president, Joe Anderson, guilty of permit violations and many counts of bribery, clearly isn't someone to trust with a cement plant. In the meantime, Joe Anderson has supplied the state Republican party with $173,500. And now Jeb! and the DEP suddenly believe that Mr. Anderson can provide "reasonable assurance" that he won't violate his permit. Reasonable assurance? Can they be sure that dynamite-blasting a lime rock mine is infallible? 700 trucks a day driving in and out of the plants entrance isn't going to pollute? Can burning 5.2 tons of tires an hour and emitting hundreds of tons of pollutants really be considered safe for the air, water, animals, and citizens?
And what about the citizens? Does a polluting cement plant get standing over a piece of land and the people who live there? Just this year, Robert Tyler, who lives just a few miles from the Ichetucknee, petitioned against the construction of the cement plant on the basis that his homestead would be substantially affected by the plant. The DEP read the petition and decided that Tyler would not be affected by the plant. The petition was never able to get as far as a judge, in violation of Florida law. This is in addition to secret meetings where a settlement was made to grant a permit, promising that no changes could be made to the permit without Suwannee American's approval. THEIR approval? The DEP is there to keep big business from stamping out what's left of the land and they've promised to only act when Suwannee American gives it's seal of approval? The DEP is accountable to the rule of the citizens, not to holy voice of our corporate deities.
"Who are they trying to protect?" asks former DEP attorney Steve Medina. The answer is Suwannee American. Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth says that he would not have made a deal like that with Mother Teresa. Jeb! wants to be tough on crime? I guess he changed his mind. It's now okay in Florida for criminals to run old-fashioned, disgusting, protested, dirty, stinking cement plants next to the most pristine water sources. Silver Springs and Rainbow River are already so polluted with nitrates that it can never be palatable. Why stop there? The Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers are killing fish with the mercury we put in them, a problem which a cement plant will only exacerbate. Not to mention that endangered manatees are being slaughtered by the Kirkpatrick Dam on the Ocklawaha River. At this rate, not only can Florida have the prestigious title of having the most Eckerds and Walgreens of any other state, but also having the most polluted water in the world! Yeah! I make a motion to use the cement from the up-and-coming cement plant to pave over all the wetlands and make a Disney/Walmart/Nike superplex right here in Gainesville! It'd bring tourism! And jobs! And the new Suncoast Speedway bulldozing through Florida's useless rural areas will help rural bumpkins to leave their doldrum lives and come out and visit the New Florida Industrial Domed Arena remote-controlled direct from Microsoft Headquarters in Silicone Valley!
As conference attendees drove out, they shouted out to us that they had nailed the DEP with questions about the cement plant and then drove away with supportive honks. This was in response to the signs being held by the protestors that read, "Honk for Clean Air" and "DEP: No permits for polluters!" One woman gave each of us 2 free passes to Ginnie Springs to thank us for helping protect the Ichetucknee, and we shouted out, "We'd do this for Ginnie Springs too!"
Another reason for the protest was to rally people to show up to the hearing to appeal the air permit on February 14. Sierra Club and Save Our Suwannee were the petitioners who raised concern about the amount of mercury that would be emitted from the cement plant. I give my infinite praise and wonder to our lawyer, Patrice Boyes, who trudged through reams of highly technical material about cement production and mercury speciation to confidently question Suwannee American's witnesses.
The outcome of this hearing will be known within the next month or two. The judge decides what the facts are and then grants a 'recommended order' to the DEP. The DEP then either accepts it or rejects it. It seems to me that when the word 'recommended' is put in front of 'order,' that the resultant meaning of the phrase is nothing. Especially when the DEP has already made its decision to grant the permit.
Contact Citizens Rediscovering the Ichetucknee Basin for more information: 352-378-6603.
[The Save the Ichetucknee efforts have added a new website, the Ichetucknee Mobilization Web Site, at http://www.metanet.org/im/. Also see http://www.ichetucknee.org --webmaster]
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