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    A plea to DEP: We’ve come too far to drill

    By Colleen Castille,


    Protecting an environmentally sensitive river and its floodplain is crucial for preserving biodiversity, maintaining water quality, and safeguarding against natural disasters.

    But most importantly, in the Apalachicola River region, its protection is also crucial for preserving the people and culture who represent much of original Florida. In this region, you can still immerse yourself deep in nature and sometimes never see another human. Maybe that’s why it’s called the “forgotten coast.” But make no mistake, the people of the region and their elected representatives have not forgotten its value.

    “The Lifeblood of Apalachee Bay.” I am not sure who first said it, but that’s how we refer to the Apalachicola River. The folks at the National Estuarine Research Reserve have spent decades educating the public about how to keep this natural ecosystem healthy to protect the economic engine of the people who live there.

    There is an entire class on understanding the connection of the river to the bay. Within the class is an explanation of how the floodplain is the circulatory system for the river and Apalachee bay is a significant part of the class.

    And yet, the Department of Environmental Protection has issued a notice approving a permit for exploratory oil drilling in the floodplain of southern Calhoun County.

    The State of Florida has spent decades fighting other states to stave off impacts to the river:

    • We’ve fought the 16-county region of Atlanta from sucking up water for unrestrained urban growth along the northern reaches of the Chattahoochee River,
    • We’ve fought southern Georgia from issuing too many wells for center pivot agricultural irrigation within the aquifer and along the Flint River.
    • We’ve fought foresters from clearcutting the hardwood swamp forests of this most extensive floodplain. And when we couldn’t win that fight, we bought the land.
    • We’ve fought the Army Corps of Engineers from dredging the sands of the river for trade; and
    • We’ve fought them placing those sands in the freshwater creeks that feed the river.

    The State has spent millions of dollars, purchasing the floodplain, in litigation costs, engineering costs, consultant costs, not to mention the time and attention of numerous Governors and their staff and DEP Secretaries and their staff in developing polices for protecting the Apalachicola River…for decades. Conservatively, I would guess that our investment in protection efforts is at least $100 million. Let’s keep fighting for those protections by denying the permit.

    I get that the experts within the department have opined that no company has successfully found oil or gas in previous exploration wells in this region and that there is little risk in approving this exploration. But it’s not zero risk.

    Do we want the Apalachicola to look like the Escambia County region if they do discover oil or gas? There are multiple mineral rights holdings within the Apalachicola River region. If one works out, then all the other mineral rights owners will follow suit. With access roads, equipment, drilling solution, etc.

    Please rethink this decision.

    Colleen Castille served as Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection consecutively from 2003 to 2007, after being appointed to both agencies by Gov. Jeb Bush. She is currently a real estate broker in Tallahassee.


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