Quality of air and water are top issues in new year

Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2004 at 11:01 p.m.
Look for the usual suspects - and a few new faces - to dominate North Central Florida's environmental calendar in 2005.
On the clean air front, action will be swift in Alachua County, with the Gainesville City Commission scheduled to vote this month on how to meet the city's future electrical needs. The leading candidate, a 220-megawatt coal-burning power plant, has been decried by some who fear that the potential for increased pollution could threaten local health and become an economic burden.
Gainesville Regional Utilities officials, on the other hand, insist coal will keep power prices low and provide customers with clean energy for the next two decades.
Environmentalists also will be watching air quality near the region's two cement plants - Florida Rock Industries' Thompson S. Baker plant in Newberry and Suwannee American Cement in Branford - after both announced plans to expand production late last year. Florida Rock, for example, is seeking approval to double the size of its operation on County Road 235, to produce an estimated 1.6 million tons annually.
The winter could prove busy for the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site on N. Main Street, one of Gainesville's oldest environmental problems. For more than 20 years, local, state and federal officials have been coordinating cleanup plans with the polluted site's current owners, Pittsburgh-based Beazer East.
Now, after unearthing a new breed of pollutants two miles from city wells, local leaders are expected to renew their pledge to protect Gainesville's drinking water supply. Cleanup officials said they plan to meet later this month to hash out a remediation strategy.
Finally, water quality and quantity will likely take center stage statewide. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen Castille said she expects spring and surface water protections to dominate discussion in Tallahassee.
"I really think water quality is going to be the biggest challenge," Castille told The Sun recently. "That encompasses the springs initiative, total maximum daily loads, and basin management plans."
In addition, some environmental groups, including the Tallahassee-based 1000 Friends of Florida, anticipate discussions on growth management to include the reservation of water for natural and human systems.
Greg Bruno can be reached at (352) 374-5026.

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