Southern Rivers

St. Marys River, near the Georgia-Florida borderI recently published an article on this site about the latest threat to the St. Marys River (entitled “Can We Count The Loss?”). It resulted in several heartfelt comments from Like The Dew readers and, once I shared it with others via email and blog, quite a response from the people of Camden County.

Yesterday I read the minutes of the last meeting of the St. Marys River Management Committee wherein they met with representatives of the company, Miocene Holdings, LLC. Those would be the people who want to suck 350,000 gallons of water per day from our low-flow, slow-moving blackwater river in order to remove the tannins (to augment fertilizer) and then pour it – treated to a pH level of 7 – back into a river with a natural pH range of 3.8 – 4.2.

Let’s review some of the highlights of that portion of the meeting.

The Miocene reps were: Mr. Emmett Noblitt (Miocene representative and facility manager), Dr. Stuart Stevens (coastal ecology consultant) and Mr. Chris Stovall  (an engineer with Thomas & Hutton Civil Engineering – Miocene’s firm of choice).

Dr. Stevens began his presentation by stating that he thinks the proposed Miocene Holdings project is a “great project” and “will not harm the St. Marys River.” He pronounced that it is an “eco-friendly project” that will allow for more “green farming.”

Mmm… sounds nice so far (in a buzz-words, PR, cheerleady sort of way).

The good Dr. then went on to explain that the water will be treated with potassium and chloride and that a trace amount of those chemicals may be returned to the river. (Okay, not so good). He also suggested that putting water with a higher pH back into the river wouldn’t harm the river’s ecological integrity.

Mr. Stovall then chimed in and said the typically low pH levels of the river already prohibit “much aquatic life” from living in it and described the river as a “sterile environment.” Huh? It’s a what?

Mr. Stovall was asked to elaborate on that startling comment. He said he meant that “nothing” could live in a 3.8 pH environment. Several committee members understandably “expressed disagreement” with that statement. (Keep in mind that Miocene plans to discharge (replace) water that has been treated to a regulatory level of pH 7).

“Sterile environment”? Well darn, someone should inform the more than 65 species of fish that have been identified in the supposedly barren St. Marys River. Having just returned from the harbor where I watched two manatees and chatted with a few fishermen and crabbers, I feel somewhat remiss in not filling them in on Mr. Stovall’s pronouncement. (Hopefully they’ll read this article and pass the word on to the alligator that recently wandered in from the river and tried to enter a patio bar at the harbor front. Someone should let these creatures know that they don’t exist).

Back to the meeting. Charlton County member Teresa Crawford asked if this type of project has been done anywhere else. Mr. Noblitt responded that it is being done in Europe but not in the United States. Nassau County member Winifred Stephens asked where the project was currently being done in Europe. The Miocene representatives did not know.

Camden County Commissioner Blount questioned whether the company had gotten data from any other sources. Dr. Stevens said there is not much data available for the St. Marys River.”

Is it just me or is this sounding a tad fishy (perhaps a bad choice of words considering the “sterile environment”)? Removal of blackwater river water to extract tannins has been done…somewhere (they just don’t know where but never in this country). As far as “not much data available”, I have no response to that other than “try Google.”

It would seem that this company (speaking of Google, Miocene Holdings, LLC has managed to defy ‘net searches itself. Go ahead and try it) wishes to use the St. Marys River – one of our endangered blackwater rivers – as a science project to benefit a company that would initially hire only five people.

Kudos to the St. Marys River Management Committee for standing against this seemingly ludicrous proposal. I can only hope that the people of Georgia chime in when the time comes for the mandatory EPD “Public Comment Period.”

The minutes can be found here: http://www.saintmarysriver.org/docs/minutes/2011/1106.pdf Attachment A.

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Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.