A proposed deal with JEA to bail out the city for failing to do its part to clean up the St. Johns River has been described as a business transaction.

 

Not surprisingly it’s one in which the city — thus, the taxpayers — is getting the short end.

This dates back to 2008 when the city and other polluters agreed to reduce the amount of nutrients they were sending into the river.

A goal was established for each, and a deadline for achieving at least half of the required reductions was set for July 31 of this year.

By making improvements to its wastewater treatment plants, JEA has exceeded its goal.

The city hasn’t even come close.

With an unhappy Department of Environmental Protection demanding the city live up to its part of the bargain, the city has worked out a deal to buy credits from JEA.

In other words, the city would pay JEA to get credit for the additional nutrients JEA has removed from the river beyond what it was required to do.

This is a bad deal for a lot — a lot — of reasons.

And we can start with the business transaction.

The city would pay JEA $2.1 million a year for eight years, which would take us to when the city would have to make 100 percent of the required reductions.

But the city isn’t really buying the credits. It’s renting them. At the end of eight years, those credits would return to JEA, but the city would still be responsible for making the reductions that would have met the 50 percent threshold plus the reductions required for the next 50 percent.

This is a classic case of kicking the can down the road.

But it gets worse.

JEA wants the $2.1 million annual payments to help defray the cost of the improvements it has made.

But who has already paid for those improvements? JEA’s ratepayers.

Who will pay for the city’s purchase of the credits? The taxpayers.

It’s pretty clear who is getting soaked twice in this deal. And it’s not JEA, which, by the way, is owned by those taxpayers.

Other cities in the river’s lower basin have purchased credits to meet their goals, but generally no money changed hands since the utilities were departments within the government.

Should Jacksonville taxpayers get the shaft simply because JEA is run by an independent authority?

One also has to question the city of Jacksonville’s negotiating skills.

There are no other buyers for JEA’s credits. Was the city bidding against itself to get to the $2.1 million annual payment?

Beyond this questionable business transaction, which is now before the City Council, there’s a bigger problem.

Kudos to JEA for doing more than was required, but the city has failed to aggressively phase out septic tanks that are polluting the river and to do a better job of treating storm water runoff.

Those are both expensive to accomplish, but the St. Johns will never be as healthy as it should be until the city lives up to its responsibilities.

Another problem with this deal is the JEA improvements impact the main stem of the river.

Much of the work the city needs to do will impact the river’s tributaries — work that’s not getting done now.

And, by the way, who are the polluters who have gotten the city into this bind?

We all are.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4284