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Variance for roadway process has some nervous
The Jacksonville Electric Authority sells more than electricity, and that is making some in Southeast Georgia nervous.

Fly ash and bed ash are by-products of the process to produce electricity. The ashes are also the main ingredients, along with water, in EZBase, a product JEA is trying to prove can be safely used as a roadway construction material in Georgia.

JEA has been granted a one-time variance by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to use the ash in south Charlton County on about five miles of timberland roads owned by Rayonier Forest Resources.

The timber company's roads are typically constructed from native sands and are prone to deteriorate quickly, regardless of the weather. EZBase will improve the durability of timberland roads and reduce maintenance for Rayonier.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection already approved the use of EZBase as a road construction material.

But not everyone in the Georgia environmental community is convinced EZBase is safe.

Hydroecologist Sydney Bacchus, an employee at the health and safety consulting company Applied Environmental Services, expressed concern about ash being tested in a wetlands floodplain with tributaries leading to the St. Marys River. The ash contains toxic contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium and mercury.

"I personally observed a parade of dump trucks loaded with this material streaming across the state line from the Jacksonville area to the remote St. Marys floodplain in Georgia to dump this material," Bacchus said in an email to solicit support for her position. "I suspect that Georgia was selected for this demonstration dumping because environmental regulation is significantly less transparent in Georgia than in Florida."

Bacchus expressed concern that much of the documentation explaining the scope of the project is not available online, and EPD staff told her she'd have to drive to Atlanta to look at the materials.

"This is not the dark ages, and DNR needs to enter the age of computers," Bacchus said.

"In my opinion, the dumping on the Georgia side of the St. Marys floodplain requires an Environmental Impact Statement under (the National Environmental Policy Act) and the Clean Water Act by the U.S. (Army) Corps of Engineers before the dumping could occur."

Alex Kearns, a member of St. Marys EarthKeepers, said environmental groups plan to closely scrutinize the application of EZBase on dirt roads in the Rayonier tract. They will also review test results to ensure adherence to the Clean Water Act and any impacts to wetlands and tributaries.

Quarterly soil, surface water and sediment samples will be collected at the site.

"I do not believe that a floodplain, wetlands and tributaries in close proximity to a slow-flow, fragile river are suitable areas in which to test highly toxic materials," Kearns said.

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