Citizens Forming Up to Fight Bioethanol Plant

By Mike Lednovich

Can David defeat Goliath one more time?

A band of 150 hopeful citizens packed a Fernandina Beach country-western themed auditorium Monday with aspirations of kick-starting an opposition movement to corporate giant Rayonier Advanced Materials’ (RYAM) plans to operate a bioethanol plant at its Gum Street complex.

Instead of being armed with five smooth pebbles and a sling, the group was told that emails, letters and petitions to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) would be the weapons of choice in order to force the agency to hold an administrative hearing on whether RYAM should be granted a state air quality permit for the bioethanol plant.

The meeting, organized by the Nassau Sierra Club, Conserve Nassau and Fight the Domino Effect, was intended to provide factual information about RYAM’s bioethanol project that would produce 7.5 million gallons of bioethanol a year. The groups’ bigger objective was to mobilize citizens for an email, letters and petition campaign to block RYAM from obtaining the permit.

“I think we need to get over the fact that somebody else is going to do this for us. It’s us that is going to do it. We’re on the ground, we live here and we need to care and we need to show up,” said Sierra Club President Julie Ferreira. “We need to get out our pencils and get on our computers and really seriously spread the word on social media because social media reaches people like your next door neighbor.”

FDEP said last week it intends to issue RYAM the air quality permit unless “If written comments received result in a significant change to the draft permit, the Permitting Authority shall revise the draft permit and require, if applicable, another Public Notice. ” The agency said the public can also file petitions to require an administrative hearing regarding the permit.

FDEP said the public has 14 days to respond from publication of the notice.

Other ‘Davids’ rose and gave examples of how their organized efforts successfully beat back profit seeking ventures that would have impacted Fernandina Beach neighborhoods.

Christopher Bidwell lives near the Pirates Bay neighborhood where homeowners defeated a developer’s plan to build an RV campground that had been approved by the county. Townhomes have now replaced the RV park plan.

Bidwell said the neighborhood decided early to start a GoFundMe page in order to raise money to hire an attorney to fight the RV park.

Bidwell told the group, “These are giant corporations that we’re fighting against. They don’t fight clean, they don’t fight fair. They have tons of money. They have government pull. They have the inside track on everything and if it’s not clear already, our local government isn’t coming to the party. So we might consider, if everybody here say gives $50, there’s plenty of good attorneys who would be excited (to take this on). The question is should we immediately seek legal help and start raising funds to do that?”

Tammi Kosack spoke on how her community, which sits adjacent to the Port of Fernandina, was able to scuttle plans by the port to include passenger cruise ships as a new business venture.

Kosack addressed the impact of a bioethanol plant on Amelia Island.

“It’s just not (going to impact) our home values, it’s also our (homeowners’) insurance rates. My insurance rates have already skyrocketed. If we get bioethanol anywhere in our vicinity, our insurance rates again will go through the roof,” she said.

Kosack said part of the successful strategy in fighting another port plan, this time to expand the port’s boundaries into the neighborhood, was that the community group went directly to Washington, D.C.

“Our effectiveness was due to boiler-plate letters that many of you here sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation and we thwarted a $14.7 million grant for the port to expand,” Kosack said. “This (email and letter writing) is where the rubber hits the road. It can’t be just four or five people.”

Kosack emphasized opposition to RYAM’s bioethanol plant was not dissent against the existing mills.

“The last thing is that RYAM, the mills, provide jobs. They’ve been here for a long time. We’re not fighting that, we’re fighting a dangerous change to a barrier island. Please stay involved people. Don’t just come to one event and forget about it,” she said.

Chemical expert Medardo Monzon said RYAM’s air quality permit application was “flawed and inaccurate.”

“The application is written to fit a narrative,” Monzon said.

One flaw Monzon pointed out was that RYAM used air quality data from 2015-2016. That data was prior to RYAM building a lignotech plant in 2018, which improved air quality since less carbon is being released into the atmosphere from RYAM’s pulp processing.

Monzon said all of the air quality improvements from the lignotech facility would be wiped out by a bioethanol processing plant.

In all, 17 people made comments to the audience or posed questions to the host panelists.

“There are hundreds of examples of where chemicals and some of these compounds used in the process really caused problems in high population areas,” said Robert Mergens, who lives at 221 S. 10th St. “My concern as a resident is what’s the best possible thing we should be pursuing? … What steps should we take next?”

Monzon told Mergens that requesting an FDEP administrative hearing regarding the air quality permit was crucial.

“At an administrative hearing we can demonstrate that RYAM’s (application) data in the air permit is tainted. It doesn’t represent what’s happening right now or what will happen in the future,” Monzon said. “There’s a whole host of questions. Those are our best options.”

Margaret Kirkland, chair of Conserve Nassau, said contacting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be another avenue to explore.

Taina Christner of Stop the Domino Effect, told attendees that a composite email list was being assembled and that once completed, talking points and boiler plate letters would be issued to assist in the email and letter writing campaign to FDEP.

“You’ve heard what you’ve heard tonight, you have a little bit better information than when you walked through the door, so help us by spreading the word especially through social media,” Ferreira said in closing the meeting.

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Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
3 months ago

Power to the people! Thanks so much to everyone who helped organize this event, and to all who are working to keep our island natural and safe. (One correction – the developer of the RV park was not a big corporation, but rather a family-owned small local business who wanted to build townhomes in the first place. The Goliath there was actually the city that refused to allow him to hook up to sewer and forced him into plans for septic tanks. The city has since changed their tune.)

Joe Blanchard
Noble Member
Joe Blanchard(@jlblan2)
3 months ago

People need to keep emotion out of any discussion about this issue. Get all the facts (real facts) and then plot your course of action. It wasn’t too long ago that everybody was up in an emotional tizzy when RYAM wanted to build a lignotech plant. Citizens, on the island, were decrying how the air quality would suffer if the plant was built but since then their air quality has improved. Just the opposite of their fears.

mmonzon
mmonzon(@mmonzon)
3 months ago
Reply to  Joe Blanchard

The comments made during this forum were based on real facts not emotion. For your information, I made an independent assessment of the Lignotech plant before the project was approved and presented it to the FB City Commission and Nassau County. The presentation documented the significant reductions in SO2, NOx and CO2 that would be accomplished and that’s why I supported that project.

The fact is that the projected emission reductions haven’t been achieved and emission of green house gases will be wiped out and made worse by the proposed bioethanol plant which would produced up to 7.5 million gallos of ethanol via fermentation. Each molecule of ethanol produced will also produce one molecule of CO2 so about 24,000 tons of CO2 would be generated. The distillation and drying of ethanol will also require massive amounts of energy and a conservative production of CO2 (based on using natural gas) would release more than 35,000 tons of CO2 even without including accesorio equipment that will also be required.

The data included in the air permit was tailored to fit a narrative that doesn’t accurately represent the current or future situation at the site. Fermentation of sugars is not a selective reaction and along ethanol, it will produce acetaldehyde, acrolein, methanol, etc. which are toxic. There’s no reference to these materials in the air permit and no factual proof on how potential emissions would be prevented.

Furthermore the processing, handling and storage of flammable ethanol in a chemical site that already uses large quantities of sulfur, ammonia and chlorine (or alternate oxidizing agents) can create a nightmare scenario during fires which often times occur in these facilities. In our case, the potential formation of a very large number and quantities of hazardous volatile compounds produced during those fires would be devastating. Many of these accidents are caused by trivial mistakes but typically result in the loss of lives and massive evacuation of communities.

I invite you to organiza a large gathering of resident and I’d be happy to share real facts why the bio the ok plant should not be built here.

lehartgreen
Noble Member
lehartgreen(@lehartgreen)
2 months ago
Reply to  mmonzon

Thank you for speaking out and bringing your expertise and experience to this issue.

Ben Martin
Noble Member
Ben Martin(@ben-martin)
2 months ago
Reply to  mmonzon

The project will produce 24,000 tons of C02 (annually?)

The weight of the earth’s atmosphere is 5.5 quadrillion tons (Encyclopedia Britannica)

To put things in a proper perspective divide 24,000 tons by 5.5 quadrillion tons – to get a mass fraction.

24,000 / 55000000000000000

= 0.000000000000436

And who is to say that most if not all of the C02 will not be absorbed by plant life?????

Certainly the earth has a lot of environmental concerns such as heavy metals and too much plastic, etc. But man made global warming is not one of them.

Mind control achieved through corporately controlled media, entertainment, and academia is the true concern.

mmonzon
mmonzon(@mmonzon)
2 months ago
Reply to  Ben Martin

You seem to forget that RYAM obtained state, county and city tax incentives precisely because of the reduction of air emissions. Also, that’s exactly what RYAM is touting as the benefit to the planet. Did you get a copy of their handout at their Open House? And, of course, you avoid the main issue: the processing of large quantities of a flammable material at a chemical site that already handles large quantities of materials that can violently react with ethanol, particularly during fires. I’d be happy to explain that to you if you organiza a large gathering of residents so that they can factually learn about chemical hazards.

Ben Martin
Noble Member
Ben Martin(@ben-martin)
2 months ago
Reply to  mmonzon

Please tell us the onsite materials that can violently react with ethyl alcohol. Who knows, maybe you have some real concerns, something besides C02.

mmonzon
mmonzon(@mmonzon)
2 months ago
Reply to  Ben Martin

I already did above. It seems that your knowledge of chemistry is limited.

Ben Martin
Noble Member
Ben Martin(@ben-martin)
2 months ago
Reply to  mmonzon

OK, now I see you have Chlorine, and some other compounds listed. Maybe you should focus on what the safekeeping practices are for those substances rather than raise false alarm over C02 emissions.

mmonzon
mmonzon(@mmonzon)
3 months ago
Reply to  Joe Blanchard

Last sentence in the long reply should read “bioethanol” and not “bio ok plant”. Sorry about the typo.

WendeBurdick
Active Member
WendeBurdick(@wendeburdick)
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Blanchard

I agree that the facts are required to determine the best, most accurate response. You stated that the air quality has improved. Can you please provide the point of comparison? Has it improved since before the mill began operation, since it has been in operation or following the expansion with the Lignotech plant?

Albert Pike
Trusted Member
Albert Pike(@albert-pike)
3 months ago

If the Federal Government issues a permit won’t that supersede anything the city can do to stop this?

Douglas M
Famed Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
2 months ago
Reply to  Albert Pike

Albert….I don’t agree with that premise. The City can attempt to enforce their rules since RYAM doesn’t have a blank check with their presence here (the airport is a different story with agreements made). I’m not a lawyer but it makes sense they can’t just use the Feds to run roughshod over the citizens, nor would the Feds want to do so….that’s why the opposition is very important.

But your argument will be the one the FBCC uses to do nothing and Tammi will issue an opinion supporting them (she can count….it only takes 3). The “nothing we can do” card will be exactly the one they play. They are already playing it by not opposing the permit.

WendeBurdick
Active Member
WendeBurdick(@wendeburdick)
2 months ago
Reply to  Albert Pike

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued the draft air quality permit (State). They need to be informed of both the Comprehensive Plan and LDC codes that prohibit chemical production that puts the local community and the environment at risk and prohibits the storage of toxic chemicals, especially in a flood zone. Local policies will be considered if this information is communicated to them which is why is is important to copy our State representatives on any emails sent to Mr Read.

Last edited 2 months ago by WendeBurdick