PORT ST. JOE, Florida — Dannie Bolden strolls down a huge thoroughfare and factors to locations which can be now not there: barber retailers, grocery shops, a live-music lounge. Laundromats, eating places, a small resort. Many years in the past, the previous essential road in North Port St. Joe bustled with dozens of Black-owned companies. The few that stay at present are surrounded by vacant concrete-slab foundations and boarded-up buildings.
“This was a thriving district,” Bolden, 68, recollects on a breezy December morning on this beachfront city on Florida’s panhandle.
In recent times, Bolden and his neighbors have drawn up detailed plans to revitalize the traditionally Black neighborhood positioned within the northern a part of the city of Port St. Joe. They need to add retail retailers and inexpensive condo items alongside this now-quiet boulevard. Additionally they envision constructing a public swimming pool, restoring baseball fields, enhancing sidewalks and drawing within the many vacationers who come to go to the world’s white-sand seashores and scallop-filled bay.
The objective, he says, is to make this long-marginalized neighborhood a “protected, vibrant and wholesome” place to be.
A couple of mile away, throughout the elevated freeway, a very completely different imaginative and prescient for the longer term is getting underway. Plans to redevelop a 60-acre waterfront lot have sparked a native debate and spurred a authorized combat in Washington, D.C. — one whose consequence may have an effect on cities nationwide.
A Miami-based firm is searching for to construct a liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) facility on the location of a former paper mill. Nopetro LNG has proposed a “small-scale” terminal, which might compress and chill fossil gasoline, load the product onto cargo ships, then ship it to international locations within the Caribbean and Central and South America. The $100-million-plus venture would export about 3.86 billion cubic ft of LNG per 12 months to begin, with potential to broaden.
Metropolis and county officers have expressed help for the venture, as has Florida State Rep. Jason Shoaf (R), whose household owns the gasoline firm that will provide the gasoline. Proponents argue the power would create jobs and generate tax income all through Gulf County, an space that’s nonetheless recovering from the harm wrought by 2018’s Hurricane Michael, and the place the year-round inhabitants is declining. For its half, Nopetro claims its “clean-burning” LNG would enhance air high quality within the importing international locations by changing the petroleum they use now to generate electrical energy.
However neighbors in North Port St. Joe advised Canary Media they fear a hulking industrial facility would contaminate the air and water of their yard, at a time when they’re nonetheless grappling with the poisonous legacy of a earlier business. From 1938 to 1998, the St. Joe Paper Firm made reams of bleached-white paper and cardboard containers — all whereas dumping lead, arsenic and different toxins into the neighborhood subsequent door. Residents additionally cited fears of an explosion, just like the one which occurred in June of this 12 months on the Freeport LNG-export facility in Texas.
For opponents, Nopetro’s venture threatens to undermine their efforts to put in writing a new narrative for his or her neighborhood.
“We’re simply on the grassroots of all of it proper now,” says Lynn Lewis, who lives in North Port St. Joe and is a part of the Pioneer Bay Group Improvement Company, the nonprofit group main the neighborhood’s redevelopment plans.
The LNG venture can be elevating greater questions over how the federal authorities ought to deal with the growth of fossil-gas infrastructure — notably as emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gasoline, are rising sooner than ever. Fossil gasoline itself is primarily composed of methane, which might leak from extraction wells, pipelines, storage tanks and all alongside the chain of gasoline manufacturing and transport.
In March, the U.S. Federal Power Regulatory Fee (FERC), which points permits for big power tasks, decided that Nopetro’s proposed facility doesn’t fall underneath the company’s jurisdiction. As a outcome, it doubtless gained’t bear the company’s complete, yearslong strategy of environmental overview and public participation. As a substitute, different federal companies and state and native authorities will individually assess completely different features of the venture.
Public Citizen, a client advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in September asking a federal courtroom to reverse FERC’s choice. Nationwide environmental teams are contemplating submitting briefs supporting the authorized problem.
They argue that, with out FERC’s regulatory oversight, fossil gasoline corporations can have a better time constructing comparable LNG amenities nationwide — a improvement that will doubtlessly enhance emissions and gradual the broader shift to renewable power. It additionally means extra cities may discover themselves in a thorny state of affairs like Port St. Joe, one during which builders’ guarantees of financial development threaten to override issues of public hurt and environmental harm.
“This can be a small-scale facility that also presents large-scale issues for the neighborhood,” Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Power Program, says of the Florida venture.
A push to wash up previous air pollution meets a new industrial problem
Whereas Nopetro’s plans have been within the works for not less than two years, residents in North Port St. Joe say they solely realized of the proposal a few months in the past, simply as they have been beginning to really feel optimistic about their neighborhood’s future.
In Could, the U.S. Environmental Safety Company (EPA) awarded greater than $850,000 in grant funding to help the Pioneer Bay nonprofit in restoring and redeveloping the neighborhood, which is surrounded by two brownfield websites tied to the outdated paper mill. A portion of the grants will assist enhance unsafe housing circumstances and clear up the contaminated, unstable soil atop which dozens of homes are constructed.
One such place is Chester Davis’ childhood residence on Battle Avenue.
On a latest overcast morning, Davis trudges via the yard, the grass mushy beneath his footwear. Cinder blocks prop up the one-story residence with yellow siding and darkish inexperienced shutters. The cracked driveway juts upward like tectonic plates pushing collectively. He says that, when his mom purchased the home within the early 1960s, she didn’t know the paper firm had shaped this space by filling in a swamp with leftover pine bark, “lime grits” and different mill waste.
“After she handed away, that’s when the home actually began to sag,” says Davis, 72, who’s a native pastor and president of the North Port St. Joe Mission Space Coalition, a corporation working to combat blight within the neighborhood. The yellow home, like many properties scattered amongst these grid-patterned streets, now sits vacant.
Because the St. Joe Paper Firm dumped particles and chemical-laden wastewater into the bottom, the mill’s smokestacks rained down air pollution from above. Residents recall mud so thick they may wipe it from automotive windshields. Minnie Seemingly, 75, remembers enjoying outdoors as a little one and white ash touchdown on her tongue, its aftertaste acidic. Over a cup of espresso in her kitchen, she says she witnessed many native ladies growing most cancers over time, which she and different neighbors suspect is linked to the mill.
But if the paper mill brought on hurt whereas it was working, its closure 24 years in the past introduced a completely different set of issues. Lots of of individuals misplaced their jobs on the manufacturing unit and supporting amenities. Gulf County, of which Port St. Joe is the county seat, misplaced its main financial engine. Unemployment soared to 20 p.c round that point, and plenty of jobseekers left city.
At this time, the county’s unemployment charges are at file lows, because of the rising tourism business and a increase in new-home building following Hurricane Michael. On the drive alongside St. Joe Bay, from the mainland up a slender 20-mile peninsula, the uncovered picket frames and drywall of future trip properties seem as considerable because the naked limbs of hurricane-stripped pine timber. Again on the town, eating places and boutiques outfitted with Christmas decorations line Port St. Joe’s small downtown district.
A stroll round North Port St. Joe, nonetheless, makes clear that the latest restoration has largely bypassed this neighborhood. That’s why this spring, when the EPA awarded the grant cash, native leaders have been hopeful the funds would kick-start financial improvement right here, together with alongside the outdated essential road, which is now named Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“We wished to redevelop as a result of [the community] had by no means been actually a a part of Port St. Joe,” Davis says. “It has all the time been separated by railroad tracks.”
In July, Davis and others hosted a crew from the ReGenesis Institute in Spartanburg, South Carolina to share concepts. The grassroots group used a $20,000 EPA grant in 1998 to start a planning course of in two blighted, polluted and predominantly Black communities in Spartanburg. That finally led to almost $300 million in authorities, personal and philanthropic investments in environmental cleanup, inexpensive housing, well being amenities and inexperienced areas. Group activists in North Port St. Joe have been desperate to launch one thing comparable at residence.
Not lengthy after the go to, Bolden and his neighbors say they discovered about Nopetro’s proposal. The information didn’t come from anybody native, however from Slocum in D.C., who learn of Nopetro’s plans in FERC filings. “All of a sudden, I get a name saying they’re going to place this liquefied-natural-gas facility on the market,” Bolden recollects. “And nobody locally knew about it.”
Fracking increase drives push for “small-scale” LNG in Florida and past
Nopetro was first established in 2007, with workplaces in Coral Gables and Tallahassee, Florida. Earlier than it started eyeing LNG, the corporate supplied fueling infrastructure for vans and buses that run on compressed pure gasoline, which is saved in a gaseous state. In 2015, Tom Ward, who co-founded the pioneering fracking firm Chesapeake Power, joined Nopetro’s board of administrators and invested within the firm. (Nopetro didn’t return a number of requests for remark.)
Round that point, fracking and horizontal drilling have been unleashing unprecedented volumes of oil and gasoline from shale formations. The USA, flush with fossil fuels, started constructing amenities to export fossil merchandise to abroad markets. Lots of these terminals now function close to communities of coloration alongside the Gulf Coast.