Gulf of Mexico
Dannie Bolden grew up in this house. He and other North Port St. Joe residents dream of revitalizing their neighborhood and uniting it with the other end of town. “Because of what we see happening on the other side of town, we know it’s possible,” he says. Credit: Amy Green

FL - In the Florida Panhandle, a Black Community’s Progress Is Threatened by a Proposed Liquified Natural Gas Plant

Leaders in North Port St. Joe had big plans for tourism, real estate, even a Black history museum. Then they found out, almost by accident, that elected officials had been pushing the LNG terminal for years without telling them.

PORT ST. JOE, Fla.—Not long ago, this rural coastal town in the Florida Panhandle was home to a thriving Black community, with locally owned shops and restaurants and plentiful jobs at the nearby paper mill.

Their community fell into decay after the paper mill closed in 1999, but today residents have big plans for restoring and uniting it, finally, with the white side of town.

They envision a reinvented Martin Luther King Boulevard, the main thoroughfare here, with mixed-use development, extended sidewalks and a new Black history museum. They had crafted a redevelopment plan with the community’s beachy location making tourism and real estate opportunities the centerpiece.

To support their dream, the residents had secured three grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, together totaling $850,000, for health and housing needs, repairs after Hurricane Michael in 2018 and a legacy of pollution left by the paper mill. They just garnered another one in April from the Biden administration, aimed at finding nature-based solutions for frequent flooding affecting the community.

“Because of what we see happening on the other side of town, we know it’s possible,” said Dannie Bolden, an activist who works tirelessly for the community. He grew up here and now is vice president of the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition, a local group aimed at redeveloping the community. He has a round face, warm smile and gray goatee.

But elected officials and a Miami-based energy company, Nopetro Energy, have other plans: a liquified natural gas plant on the same 60 acres, now vacant and weedy, where the paper mill once stood.  

The LNG plant would involve three enormous refrigerators that would cool natural gas to an extreme minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit, turning the fossil fuel into a liquid. The LNG then would be loaded into shipping containers and trucked a crucial quarter mile—1,300 feet—to a dock, where a crane would hoist the containers on cargo ships destined for the Caribbean and Latin America.

The 1,300 feet is a crucial detail because it has enabled Nopetro to move forward with the plant without any oversight from federal regulators, sparing the energy company a lengthy and costly environmental review process that would have involved the public, said Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group in Washington.

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