Groups win round in court over FPL’s Turkey Point pollution

Nov 28, 2017
FPL’s Turkey Point plant’s cooling canal system, shown here, is the subject of a federal lawsuit. Contributed.

A federal lawsuit asserting that Florida Power & Light violated the Clean Water Act due to contaminated water discharges at its Turkey Point nuclear plant is set to go to trial next year.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Friends of the Everglades and Tropical Audubon Society claimed a win after Miami-based U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles’ Nov. 21 denial of FPL’s motion to dismiss the case. The trial is scheduled to begin May 29.

The setting of trial date comes just weeks before state regulators are scheduled to decide if FPL customers will be charged for the costs of cleaning up the groundwater pollution at the site.

READ MORE ABOUT THE FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER TURKEY POINT’s DISCHARGES

The plant near Homestead includes two nuclear reactors that are cooled by a 2-mile-by-5 mile unlined canal system that is polluting the Biscayne Aquifer as well as the surface waters of Biscayne Bay, the lawsuit states. The Biscayne Aquifer supplies drinking water to more than 3 million South Floridians, including customers of Palm Beach County Water Utilities.

On average about 600,000 pounds of salt seep from the canals into the groundwater every day, and a too-salty plume has migrated underground at least four miles west.

“We are pleased with the judge’s ruling and look forward to our day in court. Once again, FPL has attempted to obstruct legal efforts to scrutinize their illegal behavior that has caused repeated and continuous violations of the Clean Water Act by operating an open industrial sewer at Turkey Point,” said Stephen Smith, SACE’s executive director.

“FPL’s imprudent actions have led to historic and ongoing discharges to the surface waters of Biscayne Bay that impact water quality and public health and safety. FPL needs to take scientifically-sound, aggressive action to address the ongoing pollution and repair the damage that their Turkey Point facility has caused,” Smith said. “Continuing to rely on this failed cooling system is nothing short of utility malpractice.”

In FPL’s Motion to Dismiss, and at a Nov. 16 hearing, FPL witnesses stated that the 2016 Florida Department of Environmental Protection Consent Order and the 2015 Florida Department of Environmental Resources Management Consent Agreement were a bar to the lawsuit.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said, “SACE has zero credibility, especially given its recent failed attempt to mislead the Florida Public Service Commission, the media and the public. We are not responding to their latest desperate attempt to get publicity.”

Robbins was referring to a motion SACE filed Nov. 1 with the PSC in a separate matter related to Turkey Point over a memo that purported to show that DEP and FPL conspired to withhold information from SACE. The motion was withdrawn Nov. 2 after SACE determined it already had the information.

“They were caught filing a legal motion based on a massive lie,” Robbins said. “They then scurried to withdraw the motion once the fraud was exposed.”

On Dec. 12 the PSC is slated to decide whether FPL can charge customers for a $200 million-plus cleanup of groundwater contamination from the Turkey Point cooling canal system. The cleanup expected to take a decade began in 2016. A hearing on the issue was held in October.

Witnesses for the Office of Public Counsel and others at the PSC hearing stated that customers should not have to pay to clean up the pollution they claim was caused by FPL’s poor management decisions.

FPL witnesses at the PSC hearing said the company has operated the canal system in full compliance with all permits and it was not until 2009 to 2013 after increased monitoring, that state agencies said corrective action was needed.