Yellow muck causes Millers Creek Board concern

Yellow fluid and sediment spills into Millers Creek July 13 from a JEA drain pipe.

Yellow fluid and sediment spills into Millers Creek July 13 from a JEA drain pipe.

Although the Millers Creek Special Tax District Board of Directors had recommended setting the yearly assessment at the maximum amount allowed by city ordinance, it was not tax money that got Millers Creek residents stirred up during its Non-Ad Valorem Public hearing July 18.

With no residents speaking against the amount of the additional tax, the board voted unanimously to set its yearly assessment at $3,000 per parcel, as had been proposed during its previous meeting June 20.

The board also discussed possible ways to engineer the dredging and presented two “disturbing” videos showing a yellowish liquid being dumped in the creek. The videos, brought to the meeting by board member Jonathan Wright, who said JEA had dumped sediment into the creek “illegally,” caused much discussion among the approximately 15 residents who attended the public hearing at Cuba Libre Dance Club in St. Nicholas.

One video, filmed by Millers Creek resident Louis Joseph at low tide on July 13, showed a yellow liquid with sediment emitting from a drain pipe into the creek from property owned by Millers Creek resident Kate Thilges. A second video, which was recorded later in the day by Wright, showed a JEA truck in the background and the chemicals beginning to disperse throughout the creek. Wright also said Millers Creek resident Bobby Baker had taken photos during a similar incident involving a different storm drain on Millers Creek May 15.

Wright said JEA was working on a pipe behind the old Baptist Church on Gay Avenue when the pipe burst. Instead of allowing the water, which was filled with clay and sediment, to run into the street, JEA workers hooked up a hose to run the discharge out a storm pipe off Thilges’ property into the creek. “Andrew Sear of JEA came out and said they were in violation because they were supposed to put a filter on the hose to catch the dirt and clay and they didn’t. He told us verbally and (Millers Creek resident) Bobby Baker was standing right there with me,” Wright explained. “All that was pumped into the creek. They have done this twice within 60 days. This was just the first time we have called them on it. They have probably been doing it all along with no repercussions.” 

Wright, who notified John Flowe, water branch manager of the city’s Environmental Quality Division (EQD) on the day the incident occurred, said in an email to Flowe that Sear came out to test the water at 4:30 p.m.

“He (Sear) said there was a violation and the reading they took was a 20 on the turbidity meter at the drain and a 17 reading on the other side of the dock about 40 feet away upstream. However, these readings were a few hours after the major infraction,” Wright wrote to Flowe. He also mentioned a similar incident on May 15, which was recorded by Baker and showed a cloud-line of chemicals across the creek with JEA’s truck in the background.

“JEA’s environmental coordinator went out and arranged to clean up the source and pump out the storm culvert, but I know the tide was up and (there was) not much success in the pipe,” Flowe responded to Wright in an email. “EQD had three people at the site around 5 p.m. We will be citing several violations and will have JEA at the EPB (Environmental Protection Board) meeting later this month.”

After the meeting, Wright said he believed JEA has been regularly clearing the storm drains without using “fabric” to capture sediment. He said he is concerned because the Millers Creek Special District is committed to spending a lot of money to clean up the creek, and he fears JEA’s carelessness will only serve to quickly clog the creek again.

“They’ve been doing this four times a year for 60 years,” Wright said. “It’s going to happen again. They were dumping in our creek, cleaning out the storm drain and doing it without taking the necessary precautions. They are supposed to put a filter cloth down over the drain to catch the dirt and mud.”

At the suggestion of Tax District Attorney Wayne Flowers, Sharon Johnson, Millers Creek Special Tax District secretary, said she plans to write a letter to Paul McElroy, CEO of JEA, on behalf of her board notifying him about the situation.

Meanwhile, in an email to The Resident, Flowe indicated JEA had already been apprised of the problem. “EQD notified a JEA environmental representative, who went to the site and instructed the workers on what needed to be done to clean up the residue and stabilize the site. The representative stated that he would be attending the EPB meeting,” Flowe said, adding that the normal protocol in such situations would be “to notify the responsible party of the problem and inform them of a time to resolve it.” In Millers Creek’s case, Flowe said the “actual discharge was abated by the time we arrived, however for the July 13 incident, there was still evidence in residual to document.”

Water quality violations are usually forwarded to enforcement staff, Flowe continued, noting “enforcement will work out a settlement to be adopted by the Environmental Protection Board, which may include a fine and future measures to prevent similar occurrences.”

Wright and a few others at the meeting said they believed JEA should partner with the district on the dredging project or see the fine collected by city be put into Millers Creek tax district coffers to help pay for dredging. However, in his email to The Resident, Flowe said any money collected from a fine would go to the city’s Environmental Protection Fund, which is used for environmental studies and some restoration projects as limited by the Ordinance Code.

In an email to The Resident, JEA spokesperson Gerri Boyce said the utility had followed proper protocols in cleaning the storm drains. “We are not aware of any recurring incidents in which (Millers) creek was impacted,” she wrote in an email. “We do know that JEA was replacing a valve and followed all procedures for placement of barriers around the storm drains,” she said. “A finer silt did get through the filters and impacted the creek. JEA is currently assessing the impact and will be responsible in taking the appropriate action based on the results of the assessment.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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