Pensacola, Florida
Monday April 22nd 2019

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The Buzz 3/21/19

PSC-UWF Partnership The University of West Florida and Pensacola State College celebrated the launch of a redesigned and extended PSC2UWF program at a signing ceremony on Tuesday, March 5.

“Together, we are strengthening a partnership that benefits both our students and the community,” said UWF President Martha D. Saunders. “We anticipate that many students will take advantage of the program’s extended benefits, and I am looking forward to welcoming them to the Argo Nation.”

PSC2UWF students will now receive enhanced advising and support from a UWF transfer pathways coach who will check in each semester to monitor students’ progress and ensure they are on the quickest path to completing their degree. The new agreement also includes a reverse transfer option for PSC and gives students access to their UWF degree audit to track their progress toward earning a bachelor’s degree while pursuing their associate degree at PSC.

“When institutions work together for the betterment of their students, it is a triple win, win, win,” PSC President Ed Meadows said. “Not only are the students completing an associate degree from PSC, but they are also gaining access to numerous services provided by both institutions and learning early about the process of successful matriculation from PSC to UWF. This will help ensure less time to complete both degrees and lower the financial burden on students and their families.”

For additional information about PSC2UWF, visit uwf.edu/pathways or pensacolastate.edu/articulation.

Environmental Hot Spots Environmental scientist and watchdog Wilma Subra is familiar with Escambia County. More specifically, she’s familiar with some of the area’s scarier ecological ghosts and statistics.

Take the former wood-treating-site-turned-Superfund-site in Pensacola. Subra worked as an advisor in the early 2000s for the locally-based Citizens Against Toxic Exposure on what turned out to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s third largest residential relocation from a Superfund site.

“If you remember, the soil out there was called Mount Dioxin,” Subra said during a visit to Pensacola March 12, referencing the Superfund site’s nickname.

Subra was in the area as part of Earth Ethics’ environmental speaker series. Her discussion at the Ever’man Educational Center highlighted various environmental health concerns in the region.

Since the early 1980s, Subra has headed up her own environmental consulting firm, The Subra Company. The firm focuses on helping individuals facing health issues due to environmental factors. Based out of Louisiana, Subra spent 14 years at the Gulf South Research Institute and has also served on various EPA boards.

Subra began her Pensacola presentation by mapping the area’s environmental hotspots. And there are many.

Escambia County is home to four separate Superfund sites. So-called Superfund sites are locales that have been contaminated and which the EPA has deemed eligible for government-funded cleanup. Escambia’s include Agrico Creosote Inc., American Creosote Works, the Escambia Treating Company and one on Pensacola Naval Air Station. There’s also a list of sites—like an industrial park, a former dry cleaner and an old tar and turpentine operation—that are contaminated but didn’t make the cut.

Providing a copy of the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) report detailing the local region, Subra explained that the area currently has 17 industrial facilities listed in the inventory.

Atop Escambia’s TRI is Ascend Performance Materials in Cantonment. The site manufactures chemicals, fibers and plastic and releases around 30 million pounds of toxins annually (about 100,000 pounds into the air; the rest is land-based).

International Paper holds the region’s number two spot on the toxic release list, but the numbers are far below Ascend. International Paper released more than 1.3 million pounds in 2017, most of it into the air. The paper mill facility’s releases include chemicals, such as acetaldehyde, as well as formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide.

Third on the list is Gulf Power Company’s Plant Crist. It releases about a half million pounds of toxins, including chromium compound.

Subra also spoke about lead levels in the local drinking water, consumption advisories for mercury-laden fish and the contamination associated with Plant Crist’s two coal ash landfills. The scientist also detailed area sources of mercury contamination. On a bright note, Plant Crist decreased its mercury releases from a 1,340-pound high in 2008 to just under 20 pounds during the latest reporting year due to the installation of scrubbers to clean the facility’s output.

Firefighting foam is another source of toxins that Subra detailed. The substance contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and was commonly used on military bases with aviation and training activities. Though not a required or enforceable drinking water standard, the EPA has determined that these chemicals are harmful to people at 70 parts per trillion.

Locally, wells have been tested for PFOA and PFOS at three Navy sites. All three sites contained wells with levels well above the 70 ppt level. Near OLF Saufley Field, the Navy also tested 20 nearby private wells, eight of which were beyond safe levels. The Navy is currently providing bottled water to the individuals with these wells. Testing is continuing in this area.

As a word of warning, Subra encouraged people to research areas before purchasing property or moving into an area to ensure that there are no environmental ghosts still haunting the grounds.

“You may have this wonderful apartment complex that’s built on top of a landfill or waste site,” Subra cautioned, urging attendees to take to the internet to find out information on given areas. “All of this is online. You Google EPA, you Google your state agency, it’s all there.”

Strategy Plan Coming A discussion among Pensacola city officials Monday, March 11, offered a view of the municipality’s path and priorities moving forward into Mayor Grover Robinson’s term. The administration appears ready to use the recent release of a mayoral transition team report as a springboard, with actions already afoot on several fronts outlined in the document.

“We will be working on developing a strategic plan working with that,” Assistant City Administrator Keith Wilkins informed the Pensacola City Council during an agenda conference.

So far, Wilkins said, the mayor is focusing on developing succession plans within city staff, trying to ensure that qualified employees are waiting in the wings as numerous members of staff age into retirement.

“We have a very good start on that,” Wilkins said.

The assistant administrator also said the mayor’s reshuffling of positions and the city’s organizational chart should be read as reflective of Robinson’s priorities. For example, the city is currently searching for someone to handle Complete Streets efforts because the mayor intends to make pedestrian safety and walkability priorities.

“It’s pretty much soup to nuts in regard to transportation,” Wilkins described the Complete Streets position’s purview.

Another position the city is currently trying to fill is that of public information officer. Wilkins told the council that the city had 60 applicants—36 or which are “qualified”—for the job.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers expressed a desire to have a position within the administration to oversee community development issues. She pointed out that areas of the city falling within Community Redevelopment Areas do have someone to oversee development, but areas outside the boundaries of CRAs, like Myers’ District 2, do not.

“I would like to see a community developer for the entire city,” the councilwoman said. “The rest of us outside of a CRA, we don’t have that.”

Wilkins said that the mayor did intend to have such a community development position—“that’s exactly the concept the mayor would like to follow”—and that, for the moment, he served in such a capacity. He also encouraged council members to consult with any member of city staff that could help them with issues.

Councilwoman Jewell Cannada-Wynn also wanted to know about the possibility of the city hiring someone to oversee neighborhood planning. She noted that the city previously had such a position some years ago.

Wilkins said a neighborhoods position was in the lineup, but with looser expectations.

“That’s unfilled, unfunded at this time,” he said, “but it’s certainly in the mayor’s plan.”

Hatchery’s Success Challenged Local environmentalist Christian Wagley has challenged Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute CEO Don Kent’s claim that the institute’s hatchery replenishment program in California has been successful.

In 2014, Wagley had opposed the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission’s fish hatchery project at Bruce Beach. (Inweekly, “Go Fish,” Feb. 6, 2014).

“This white sea bass program by Hubbs was put up by Hubbs and by Guy Harvey in letters of support (in 2014) for the Pensacola hatchery, claiming that the program was “a successful partnership” and “helping to bring back the white sea bass population,” Wagley wrote Inweekly. “Yet when I searched online, I found State of CA reports and quotes from a researcher reporting that the program was having little if any positive impact.”

Wagley shared a 2018 NPR report on a state of California report that showed the program has failed and has not enhanced fish populations. (NPR, “$40 Million Later, A Pioneering Plan to Boost Wild Fish Stocks Shows Little Success,” Feb. 15, 2018).

“The first formal scientific evaluation has concluded that the program had increased white seabass populations by less than 1 percent — a stunningly low success rate,” reported NPR journalist Clare Leschin-Hoar.

Wagley also shared “a much more damning story on the same program.” The Voice of San Diego reported that the report, following a two-year-old Voice of San Diego investigation, found few of those fish were surviving in the wild, and many were deformed. (Voice of San Diego, “Carlsbad Fish-Breeding Program Is a Mess, Report Confirms,” Feb. 28, 2018.)

Voice of San Diego reporter Ry Rivard wrote, “…the program has potentially threatened the health of the wild white seabass population. The state has spent $22 million on the program over the past 15 years. In recent years, that’s amounted to about $12 per fish released into the ocean.”

Help Vocal Harmony The Booker T. Washington High School choral group, Vocal Harmony, is in the last weeks of its fundraiser for its trip to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York on Easter Sunday. The tour will cost $10,000, and they are only about $6,000 short of their goal. The deadline is April 1.

Donations may be made to the Escambia County Public Schools Foundation, ecpsfoundation.org, but be sure to specify your contribution is for the Booker T. Washington choral group.

School District’s Water Quality The Escambia County School Board discussed water quality issues during its Friday morning meeting, with members urging the district to take steps to ensure drinking water in its facilities is safe. District officials are looking to meet with the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority to discuss the matter further.

“We do have periodic testing of water in our schools, right?” asked school board member Kevin Adams.

Assistant Superintendent Shawn Dennis explained that the district conducts “reactive” testing, only testing water in the schools when alerted to an issue via discoloration or odor. Several board members suggested the district take a more proactive approach on water testing.

“Do we not feel that we need to make sure that at least the water coming into our facilities is safe for the children?” said Board member Dr. Laura Edler.

This water quality discussion comes as concerns have been revived about groundwater contamination near the Rolling Hills landfill in the Wedgewood community, as well as recent testing on and near regional military bases that revealed high levels of toxins associated with firefighting foam.

Dennis clarified that the water supply for schools in proximity to the landfill did not come from the area groundwater but was supplied from elsewhere and also explained that the district had conducted tests at multiple facilities some years ago to ensure that interfacility infrastructure was not contaminating the water supply.

Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said the district should engage the ECUA about both concerns associated with Rolling Hills contamination as well as water testing in the schools.

“See what they do in the way of water testing,” Thomas said.

Adams suggested the district also reach out to the Navy, which has recently conducted testing of wells on area bases as well as a number of neighboring private wells and found high levels of the harmful toxins PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), which are associated with firefighting foam used in training. Schools near the bases, he said, should be tested.

“Just to reassure everybody,” Adams said. “Just to calm everybody’s fears.”

Environmental advocate Dr. Gloria Horning, who has long raised concerns about area water quality issues, said she was encouraged by the school board’s discussion.

“Several of the board members were right on,” she said.

But, Horning added, the district should also be looking into possible soil and air contamination at schools near the Wedgewood community, citing not only Rolling Hills but also a nearby concrete crushing operation.

“We’re very concerned about the children’s air, soil and water,” she said.

Mark Your Calendar Join District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh for the next Coffee with the Commissioner 6:30-7:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 27, at Hardee’s, 2500 Wilde Lake Blvd. It is an informal setting with no agenda or appointments needed.

St. John’s Episcopal Church hosts astronomer Dr. Wayne Wooten 6 p.m. Thursday, March 28, for its latest St. John’s Talks series at the church located at 401 Live Oak Ave. The title of the talk is “Things that Matter: The Making of the Material Universe.”