5 months after barge sinks off Jacksonville coast, environmentalists call for change

Petition calls for end to importing coal ash from Puerto Rico

Petition calls for end to importing coal ash from Puerto Rico.

MAYPORT, Fla. – Five months after a massive barge carrying waste from a coal plant got stuck off the coast of Mayport, three environmental groups are putting pressure on leaders to ban the import.

The News4Jax I-TEAM began reporting on coal ash coming into the Jacksonville area in March when a 418-foot barge got stuck off the beaches.

Tugboats from Dann Ocean were bringing the barge, owned by Moran Towing, through the Mayport jetties during a storm when it came loose and got stuck on the seafloor.

It sat half-submerged on the sandy bottom for more than three months. Storms battered it, causing the contents to leak onto the ocean floor. Crews worked from March into June to finally get the Bridgeport barge back to port.

“This waste has arsenic, it has lead, it has mercury,” said Lisa Rinaman, the executive director of the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “All things that you do not want to get into the food chain.”

The I-TEAM discovered the ash was being shipped to North Florida regularly from an AES power plant in Puerto Rico. It’s moved from a private dock in Jacksonville to a landfill in Southeast Georgia.

Rinaman said that should have never happened in the first place. Her organization and the local chapters of the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation are now pushing a petition calling for an end to coal waste coming into Jacksonville’s ports.

The pledge reads:

“I urge the Jacksonville City Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting the import of coal ash into Jacksonville’s ports, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of our community and waterways from this toxic waste.”

“City council and the mayor can definitely stop accepting this material,” she said. “And they can advocate for federal solutions to look at bigger picture.”

The mayor’s office had no comment when News4Jax sent over the petition.

Rinaman hopes that if enough people sign the form, it will get the attention of city leaders.

“It’s important our local officials take a position,” she said. “We’re allowing this into our port every day, it’s putting our community at risk.”

She pointed out that waste from coal-fired plants has to go somewhere, so she hopes it’s also a lesson to move toward more sustainable energy.

While those involved in the cleanup said there was minimal environmental impact, the Bridgeport barge incident caused a state investigation. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection released the sampling and assessment results that were taken in the waters near where the barge was stranded.

The DEP took samples from 44 points on the sea floor near the Bridgeport and 17 pits along the shoreline. The 17 shoreline pits were all clear.

Four samples showed trace amounts of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and copper, near the barge, but nothing that exceeds their standards.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.