Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 30th 2014

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The Buzz 7/31/14

Increase the Peace Local organization Increase the Peace is looking for support for the Back to School Summer Jam, Aug. 16 from 12 to 5 p.m. in Morris Court. The event’s aim is to get children ready for school with free school supplies and an afternoon of family-friendly fun. Increase the Peace is asking for support for the event by way of donations of school supplies, as well as hamburgers, buns, chips, juice and water.

“Whatever Pensacola can give us, we will accept in an attempt to get our children ready and prepared to head back to school,” said Tasha Nixon of Increase the Peace. To contact Nixon, call 430-4255 or email tnixon330@cpmapartments.com.

Pitiful Escambia The number one illegal business in Escambia County may not be marijuana, heroin or meth. No, the most profitable illegal business operation appears to be dirt.

The revelation came July 24 at the Board of County Commissioners agenda review during a discussion on a proposed moratorium on construction and debris landfills and borrow pits.

“Based upon the review, they’re no permits for a borrow pits except for one according to the inspections that were done,” said Horace Jones, Jr., interim director of the county’s Development Services Division. “Looking at our records and our systems, there was only one borrow pit permit.”

The ordinances covering borrows pits have been on the books since 2005. Yet only one borrow pit has a legal permit to operate, and that permit was only approved a few weeks ago by the county commission.

Borrow pits are used in construction and civil engineering. Soil and sand are extracted from the land and used for many of the major construction projects in the area. The county permits require the owners to put up surety bonds and submit reclamation plans for how they would restore the property after the soil had been mined.

Several of the commissioners were stunned the county only had one legal borrow pit. “It’s reasonable to expect that if someone’s doing business that they would have a permit,” Commission Chairman Lumon May said, who has been pushing for tighter regulation of landfills and permits in the Wedgewood neighborhood. “It’s reasonable to believe that if staff has knowledge of that, they would have advised someone to pull the permit and made that process very simple for a person to have.”

Escambia County did do that in 2011 when Campbell’s Sand and Gravel in Century and Green Fill Dirt Sand Pit in the Wedgewood area were cited for operating borrow pits without permits.

In August 2011, county staff told the commissioners—Gene Valentino, Grover Robinson, Wilson Robertson, Marie Young and Kevin White— that six borrow pits had been operating illegally for at least five years.

The concern then, as it was on July 24, was how to get the illegal borrow pits in compliance. Three years ago, the commission voted to allow the owners to get interim permits that would give them year to meet all the legal requirements. Those permits expired on Dec. 5, 2012.  None of the owners renewed their permits.

None.

Attorney Mike Papantonio, senior partner of Levin Papantonio law firm and co-founder of Emerald Coastkeepers, said that he would not be surprised if an investigation led to criminal indictments.

“There were laws on the books for nine years that these companies ignored despite given several chances to get in compliance, and it appears that until Commissioner May started asking question the county staff turned a blind-eye to the violations,” Papantonio said.

“This is the type of dirty politics that is usually reserved for Third World countries,” he said. “The environment is raped and pillaged, greedy people make millions, citizens get sick and die, and the regulators stand by and just watch.”

Papantonio is no stranger to environmental cases. In 2001, he filed a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips that led to a $70 million settlement with Pensacola residents whose property was potentially contaminated by a toxic plume that has spread from the old Agrico Chemical Co. fertilizer plant. In 2007, as lead trial counsel in the environmental class action case of Perrine v. Dupont, Papantonio received a jury verdict award for the Spelter, West Virginia community with an estimated value in excess of $380 million.

“We will be watching the developments in this investigation very closely,” Papantino said.

The Escambia County Commission voted July 24 to give the borrow pit operators another chance to get their permits. They have until August 21

“Everyone needs to be held to the standards and we need to be pressing that and moving that forward,” Commissioner Grover Robinson said.

May agreed. “We can’t take any more excuses. We just have to continue to move forward.”

City Still Plays With Requests Attorney Eric Stevenson has asked the State Attorney’s Office to reopen its investigation into how the city of Pensacola fulfills public record requests. He alleges that Jane Ballard, the city’s public records coordinator, intentionally delayed the release a public record and failed to deliver it in a timely fashion as required by Florida law.

Stevenson was forced to wait for over 45 days for Ballard to answer his June 6 public record request regarding the mayor’s use of outside council. When he finally received a response from Ballard on the city’s public records website, the only document was a PDF of a series of emails between her and attorney Bob Kerrigan. The date of those emails was June 6, the same day of his request.

“Why did I have to wait a month and a half for this? She had the answer the day I made the request,” Stevenson said. “Last year the State Attorney’s Office raked the city over the coals for how poorly it handled public record requests. Mayor Hayward had the entire city staff sit through a public records seminar, hired a new coordinator and purchased a fancy software system.”

He said, “Still they play games with routine requests. Amazing.”

Earlier this year, Mayor Hayward announced a goal of closing 80 percent of public records requests in seven days or less by the end of 2014. In a May 27 press release, the mayor said that among the 101 completed requests initiated in the first five months of 2014, the average time to close was under six days–5.58 days to be exact.

The Stevenson request with its 45 day-plus delay will hurt that average and may lead to another investigation.