Florida environmentalists are criticizing a plan to pump pulp mill waste into a Gulf of Mexico estuary. But in the company town of Perry, the idea is as popular as a hot church supper.
Several hundred people crowded into a local auditorium Tuesday night to support the pipeline, which would pipe waste 15 miles from North Florida's Buckeye Cellulose milland discharge it at the mouth of the Fenholloway River, where it would flow toward a gulf marine nursery ground.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is ready to issue a permit for Buckeye Cellulose to build the pipeline, and the DEP came to Perry to hear comments on the idea.
Although several statewide environmental groups oppose the notion of a waste pipe emptying into a gulf estuary, none came to testify at the Perry hearing.
Instead, more than 30 speakers sang the praises of Buckeye Cellulose, the town's largest employer.
"The (pipeline) plan is based on sound science. It improves the river. It improves the gulf, and my company stands ready to implement this plan," Buckeye plant manager Chip Aiken said, to loud applause.
Only six people spoke against the pipeline, saying that transferring waste from the polluted Fenholloway to the gulf will only worsen the problem.
For several hours, Perry residents extolled Buckeye's benefits. It has agreed to spend $39-million on the pipeline and on changes at the mill that company officials say will make the waste that comes out of the pipe cleaner than the waste that flows from the river now.
The DEP will accept written comments on the pipeline plan until March 30.