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We have come too far to drill

Protecting an ecologically sensitive river and its floodplains is crucial to conserving biodiversity, maintaining water quality and protecting against natural disasters.

But most importantly, in the Apalachicola River region, their protection is also critical to preserving the people and culture that make up much of original Florida. In this region, you can still immerse yourself deeply in nature and sometimes never see another human being. Perhaps that's why it's called the “Forgotten Coast.” But make no mistake, the people of the region and their elected officials have not forgotten their value.

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

There is an entire course devoted to understanding the river's connection to the bay. The course explains how the floodplain is the river's circulatory system, and Apalachee Bay is an important part of the course.

And yet the Department of Environmental Protection has granted a permit to drill for oil in the floodplain in southern Calhoun County.

The state of Florida has been fighting other states for decades to prevent impacts on the river:

  • We stopped the 16-county Atlanta region from sucking up water for unchecked urban growth along the northern portion of the Chattahoochee River.
  • In southern Georgia, we fought against the drilling of too many circular irrigation wells in the aquifer and along the Flint River.
  • We stopped foresters from clearing the hardwood forests of these vast flood plains. And when we couldn't win that fight, we bought the land.

  • We prevented the Army Corps of Engineers from dredging the river's sand for commercial use.
  • We fought against them dumping sand into the freshwater streams that feed the river.

The state has spent millions of dollars to purchase the floodplains, in litigation costs, engineering costs, consultant costs, not to mention the time and attention of numerous governors and their staffs and Department of Environmental Protection departments and their staffs in developing policies to protect the Apalachicola River… over decades. Conservatively, I would estimate that our investment in protections is at least $100 million. Let's keep fighting for that protection by denying the permit.

I understand that the Ministry's experts believe that no company has successfully found oil or gas in previous exploration drilling in this region and that there is little risk in permitting this exploration. But the risk is not zero.

Do we want Apalachicola to look like Escambia County when oil or gas is discovered there? There are several mineral rights in the Apalachicola River region. If one of them is successful, all other mineral rights holders will follow suit. With access roads, equipment, drilling solutions, etc.

Please reconsider this decision.

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

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Anna Harden

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