by Mike Sharkey
Attorneys representing Distribution & Auto Service, Inc. have contacted Jacksonville Port Authority officials about possibly closing the JEA coal fired plant on Blount Island.
In a letter to JPA executive director Rick Ferrin, attorney G.J. Rod Sullivan Jr. said fallout from the coal fired plant is tainting many of the 144,000 cars that DAS — an auto processing company based outside of Los Angeles — brings into the port annually.
“That’s not going to happen,” said JEA spokesperson Bruce Dugan.
The situation, apparently, is bad enough that Jacksonville could lose the DAS operation if an equitable solution can’t be found.
“At this time we don’t have any comment,” said Gary Davis, the general manager for the local DAS facility.
Should DAS leave Jacksonville — and take its 166 jobs — Brunswick would be the likely destination. Moving would also be detrimental to the Port. DAS’s 144,000 cars represent almost 25 percent of cars brought in by the Port each year. And, with a $1.8 million annual lease and $1.4 million in wharfage/terminal usage fees, there would be a severe negative economic impact.
“This is a case of the Port working with JEA,” said Brad Thoburn, director of intergovernmental regulations for the City. “Everyone needs to sit down and figure out their options. The City can be involved. The Port needs to take the lead. They [DAS] are a tenant of the Port and they need to do what they can to make the tenant happy. It’s a good business that provides a lot of jobs and they’re definitely a contributor to our economy.”
It seems the prevailing winds during the months of May through August are from the north. Each time the plant powers up and heavy black smoke is emitted, the fallout winds up on DAS cars such as Nissans and Kias. The particulate fallout must be washed off before the cars can be distributed to various car dealerships in the Southeast.
In his letter, Sullivan indicated that from May 6 until Aug. 21, there were several instances of what is deemed “heavy and hot” fallout, meaning the pH levels of the fallout were hovering around one, the highest pH level. During that period, DAS has documented fallout on 48,833 cars which cost the company $94,265.06 to wash. At this point, the situation isn’t dire — DAS has been able to wash off the fallout before it can damage the vehicles. However, Sullivan says the real danger would occur if there was a light, misty rain or heavy dew shortly after the plant is fired up, and that hasn’t happened yet.
Dugan said the Port is well-aware of the problem, but is not convinced the fallout is from JEA’s St. Johns River Power Park. After examining the letter and accompanying satellite photo and pictures, Dugan said the fallout is likely coming from JEA’s Northside Unit 3 plant.
“Since it’s not coming from SJRPP, we are not going to shut that plant down,” said Dugan. “We have been working with that unit and we think we’ve been successful. We implemented some operational changes in August. We are monitoring it closely, even on a daily basis.”
Dugan said JEA officials and DAS officials have met a few times regarding the issue and JEA is confident the new measures will alleviate the problem. In addition to strict monitoring, Dugan said JEA will pay particular attention to wind direction and speed before firing up the power plant.
“If we decide the wind will blow the fallout over Blount Island, we will change what we are doing,”said Dugan. “We will ramp down our power or change the fuel mixture.”
Dugan added JEA will continue to reimburse DAS for clean up costs as long as it is deemed that new cars are dirty as a result of JEA power plant emissions.
Robert Peek, manager of public relations for the Port, said the simple solution would be to relocate the DAS cars during the months the fallout on their leased space is heaviest. But there’s no place to move the cars.
“There’s a couple of reasons they can’t be moved,” said Peek. “Our half of Blount Island is about 900 acres and it’s all being used. And, we might move the cars into an area where there is also fallout. It’s not just a three-acre plot. There’s fallout all over the region.”
David Kaufman, the director of planning and external affairs for the Port, said everything possible will be done to prevent DAS from even considering relocating.
“Our role is, and will continue to be, that when a tenant raises an issue, to bring that issue to a satisfactory resolution,” said Kaufman. “Brunswick is always a threat and an easy option.”