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Jacksonville waterway commissioners postpone action on banning coal ash shipments

The catalyst was when a Bridgeport barge carrying tons of hazardous waste washed coal ash into the ocean near the First Coast.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At first, the goal was to ban coal ash shipments to the First Coast. Waterway commissioners agreed to postpone any action. 

The catalyst was when a Bridgeport barge was carrying tons of hazardous waste. It eventually turned into an environmental nightmare. The barge was sinking and coal ash was washed into the ocean. 

Marc Hardesty, one of the commissioners, told First Coast News how officials "were not aware of the significance of that." A mistake he does not want to see repeated. 

"Do we really want to take in this kind of thing?" Hardesty asked. "Particularly, after JEA has dismantled the coal fire plants." 

For now, the commissioners want every stakeholder involved in their next meeting. That includes environmental regulators such as the EPA. Shipping companies that carried waste on Jacksonville Waters were asked to attend.

"We have to have an effective response to protect our environment - to protect our citizens," Hardesty added. 

Lindsey Brock, another commissioner said they're going to look at it as a commission, how to go about handling hazardous non-hazardous materials. 

While the EPA doesn't label coal ash as hazardous, environmental scientists say it is. Dr. Quinton White, a marine science researcher, said coal ash can affect the food chain. Dr. White is also a professor at Jacksonville University. 

"And we get concerned with people eating fish that has excessive mercury in it," Dr. White said. 

The next meeting will be held either in late January or early February. 

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