FPL on hot seat at county meeting
BY TIMOTHY O'HARA Citizen Staff
Instead, the commissioners called for a greater scrutiny of the activities at Turkey Point and did not rule out filing some sort of legal action to keep FPL from violating state and federal groundwater laws and regulations, as the company is not keeping water from its cooling canals on its own property as required.
Water from the cooling canals, which contains low levels of the radioactive isotope tritium, has made its way out of the cooling canals and is causing hyper-saline conditions threatening the Florida Keys’ drinking water supply, the commissioners and hydrology experts said Wednesday.
FPL inter-governmental affairs director Mike Sole addressed the county commission on Wednesday and told the commissioners that long-term efforts are under way to stop the westward migration of a saltwater plume that is threatening the Keys’ freshwater drinking supply.
FPL plans to dig a deep-injection well that would push the saltier water thousands of feet underground, which would lessen the threat from the saltwater plume, said Sole, the former head of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Sole called recent media reports about the tritium and saltwater plume “sensational.” Sole was off to a rocky start with the commissioners, as early on in his presentation they challenged the accuracy of his testimony when he said radioactive salty water is not “leaking out” and the “plant is working as designed.”
“It’s not working as designed,” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said. “Then how does tritium get out? This is not starting out well.”
The commissioners pointed out that FPL knew there was a problem 37 years ago and did nothing until recently. The whole issue came to light as a judge recently said the state was not doing enough on the tritium and saltwater plume issue.
Sole said FPL has started the permitting process to dig a deep well to push water from the cooling canals thousands of feet into the ground and away from the Biscayne Aquifer, which is the Keys’ main drinking water supply. However, that could take years before it’s online and FPL is seeing results.
The commission also heard from two hydrology experts, Laura Reynolds and Edward Swakon, who refuted much of Sole’s presentation. Sole often nodded his head in disagreement with the findings they gave to the commission.
Commissioners and representatives from at least a half-dozen Keys homeowners associations and environmental groups called FPL’s efforts insufficient and questioned why these efforts were not embarked upon years earlier.
The commissioners and the homeowners groups also criticized state regulatory agencies for not doing more to make sure the radioactive water and saltwater was not leaving Turkey Point’s canals.
The commission asked legal staff what the county could do to resolve the issue and hold FPL accountable through the courts. Kolhage said the bottom line is that FPL is legally required to maintain the water on their property and the company is not and that is a basic violation of the state and federal permits for the plant.
Commissioner David Rice called FPL’s current remedies “insufficient” and his fellow commissioners concurred.
“You need to go beyond what’s required of you,” Rice said. “You have lost the public’s trust. In order to get it back, you will have to be more proactive. Getting it back might not happen in my lifetime or yours, but you need to be more proactive.”
Rice said that the FPL is now under a “microscope” the utility created.
In addition to legal remedies, the commission agreed to hold a joint meeting with the Miami-Dade County Commission, which has also been battling FPL on this issue, and will work with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority on monitoring saltwater intrusion and tritium into the areas surrounding the plant. The commissioners called for monitoring to be conducted by independent experts.
The concerns come as FPL wants to add two more radioactive generators and expand the operations of the plant. The commissioners seemed to be in agreement Wednesday that the expansion should not take place until FPL can resolve the saltwater and tritium issues.
The court system apparently agreed, as the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Miami ordered Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to reconsider their 2014 approval of the reactors on Wednesday. The court said FPL did not meet environmental requirements in its planning and that the expansion could endanger the delicate Everglades ecosystem.