Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 20th 2019

Archives

The Buzz 4/18/19

Bye, Amy Interim Escambia County Administrator Amy Lovoy turned in her resignation late Monday afternoon. Her tenure has been tumultuous, with three department heads resigning over the past two weeks.

Lovoy alluded to behind-the-scenes conflicts in her resignation letter: “I find it difficult to continue performing my duties in a place where allegations of any variety can be made and reputations ruined before an individual is allowed to answer for the charges against them Behind all the immediate distractions, I know the county is a better place than that.”

Her last day is July 12.  The buzz is Lovoy will move over to the City of Pensacola, possibly taking over the CFO position.

Rolling Hills Update The informational stations circling the gymnasium at the Marie K. Young Wedgewood Community Center provided a pretty good picture of the progress—or lack thereof—being made remediating the closed Rolling Hills landfill, but community activist Dr. Gloria Horning still wasn’t satisfied.

“It’s a dog and pony show,” she quipped.

Horning was pretty jazzed, fresh off a sidelines grudge match with Florida Department of Environmental Protection Northwest District Director Shawn Hamilton. Among other things, the activist was upset that the state was just alerting nearby residents that remediation efforts at the landfill had ceased.

“All of that information has been available,” Hamilton told her, referring to a publicly-accessible, late March DEP court filing against South Palafox, LLC, owners of the defunct landfill.

“On Oculus,” Horning replied.

Oculus is FDEP’s online platform for public documents. It’s a wonky warehouse where activists like Horning feel comfortable, but it’s not on a lot of folks’ radar.

“Do you know what Oculus is?” Horning asked, turning to Debbie Lawrence.

Lawrence has lived in the Wedgewood community, save for her time away at college, since 1963. She’s watched a lot of community residents, like her dad, get sick and die, and she’s not sure why.

“But something is happening,” Lawrence said, alluding to the possibility that environmental impacts associated with Rolling Hills could have something to do with area health concerns.

Rolling Hills, a former construction and demolition landfill, was cited in 2013 for environmental violations, and the state required South Palafox, LLC to implement a Remedial Action Plan. The facility was accepting prohibited materials and polluting the area groundwater with elevated levels of contaminants such as arsenic, boron, ammonia and iron.

In 2014, Rolling Hills was shut down for failing to implement the Remedial Action Plan. South Palafox, LLC was ordered to remediate the site, and the company began remediation efforts prescribed by FDEP, submitting quarterly monitoring reports until May 2017, when the reports stopped.

The FDEP confirmed Jan. 28 that the remedial system at Rolling Hills is no longer operational. On March 22, the department filed a Motion for Contempt to compel South Palafox, LLC to fulfill its remediation obligations.

The FDEP’s April 11 meeting in Wedgewood was too little, too late for Dr. Horning. She was upset that area residents had not been notified already that the monitoring at the site stopped in 2017 or kept abreast of groundwater tests that indicated elevated levels of various toxins stemming from the site’s runoff.

Horning has a hunch that concerns raised by her and community activists prompted this recent FDEP public meeting and isn’t shy about sharing her thoughts about why she thinks the state has not communicated more frequently with area residents.

“It’s because it’s a black community; it’s environmental racism,” she said. “You can’t call it anything else.”

FDEP, of course, takes a different position.

“We feel like there’s some misinformation out there, and we just want to get the right information out there,” explained Brandy Smith, external affairs manager for FDEP.

“Misinformation can be problematic and can be troubling,” agreed Hamilton.

The state was concerned that residents were becoming alarmed with reports of troubling water tests and wanted to assure them there was no reason for concern.

“A lot of the concerns you hear, ‘Is my water safe?’ The answer to that is yes,” said Hamilton.

The FDEP director continued to describe the difference between residents’ drinking water—supplied by Emerald Coast Utilities Authority from out-of-the-vicinity wells not impacted by Rolling Hills—and groundwater.

“Is it affecting groundwater?” Hamilton poses, stressing the distinction. “The answer is yes.”

Attendees to the Wedgewood meeting learned that, for the time being, Rolling Hills would continue to go unremediated. Currently, FDEP is hoping legal measures will inspire South Palafox to act, but until then, groundwater will continue to be contaminated.

“Until it’s done, the remediation system sits as is,” Hamilton said, going on to describe the state’s current communication with South Palafox, LLC as limited.

A few days after the Wedgewood meetings, Lawrence reflected with guarded optimism. While she still feels that the FDEP could be more proactive in its approach to dealing with Rolling Hills and communicating with the local community, she was hopeful that the department would strive towards such improvements in the future.

She recalled how Hamilton had assured her the FDEP would put out more timely information in the future and how he could meet with local groups to discuss issues about Rolling Hills.

“Whatever it takes,” Hamilton had said at the meeting, “let me know.”

The Wedgewood resident plans to take the FDEP official up on the offer.

“We’re going to schedule meetings and invite him out and see what happens,” Lawrence said.

Homeless Conversation Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson struck an optimistic tone as the city and Escambia County began exploring how best to address the issues and needs of the area’s homeless community.

“I do think we’re in a more positive place than we’ve been,” Robinson said during a joint city-county homeless summit on April 5. “The county and city have said, ‘We’re going at this together.’”

The summit, held at the Pensacola Bay Center, convened local officials with area organizations that work with the homeless community to facilitate a dialogue on the subject.

“What can we do as a county or municipality?” asked Escambia County Commission Chairman Lumon May. “Hopefully, we’ll walk out of here with two or three concrete goals.”

After more than three hours of workshopping the topic, identifying areas of need, a few primary areas of focus were settled upon—there is a big need for temporary, but also permanent, housing; for a successful transition out of homelessness, individuals need and greatly benefit from case management, or assistance navigating potential services and assistance options; and the system used to share data among assistance organizations, the Homeless Management Information System, or HMIS, could be more user-friendly.

“We have a lot of work ahead, but I feel confident we’re going in the right direction,” Robinson said on his mayoral Facebook page after the summit.

Before the April 5 summit, Robinson had suggested that perhaps there was a need for a large come-as-you-are facility, which would not have entry requirements such as sobriety. The discussion during the summit seemed to indicate a downsized version could still be on the table, with such a facility not exceeding 15 to 20 occupants.

Jason Grizzard, vice president of ministry services with Waterfront Mission, said he thought a come-as-you-are facility would attract more homeless people to the area. He said, “They will come as they are, and there will be more panhandlers, more homeless people in Pensacola than there was before. I don’t know that, but that is my fear.”

While the summit was, for the most part, a cordial affair, it did see a couple of tense moments. The first occurred when a homeless woman expressed exasperation with the pace and direction of the day’s discussion—“Y’all are suffering from death by meetings!”—and the second arose out of a discussion during public comments about the lack of shelter options in the area for the LGBTQ community, particularly trans individuals.

“There is an entire demographic in this area that is being misrepresented and erased,” said Devin Cole, leader of STRIVE, a transgender advocacy organization.

Cole said it was not right that some area organizations had a policy against accepting certain individuals. The comments received a swift warning from the panel.

“Careful,” said Connie Bookman, CEO and founder of Pathways for Change. “Be careful judging.”

“You too,” Cole replied.

Bookman assured the advocate she understood his concern, recounting an instance in which she provided a trans person with clothes out of her own closet. She said, “We actually lost funding from some churches. So, I get it.”

Mayor Robinson attempted to calm the moment, telling attendees that he hoped “we can all work together.”

“We’re not going to sit here and throw stones at other partners we have to work with,” Robinson said. “This is where I didn’t want to go. We’re all in the boat together.”

Mike Kimberl of Sean’s Outpost and the Alfred-Washburn Center disagreed with the mayor’s characterization.

“I think they were giving an honest critique,” he said. “I do not believe they were throwing stones.”

Kimberl had brought up the same point earlier during the wide-ranging discussion among panel participants. He said it was essential the area provide a homeless shelter that serves members of the LGBTQ community and took issue with organizations and facilities that do not.

“I think a lot of time in our community when we say ‘faith-based,’ we mean discriminatory,” Kimberl said.

Palafox Summer Construction Gulf Power will tie up traffic on South Palafox from Garden to Zaragoza streets for the entire summer as it continues to upgrade downtown’s existing underground power-grid network. The utility recently completed the first year of the five-year, $83 million project to modernize the current 70-year-old utility network.

“We will finish the work on Romana Street, weather permitting, soon, and then the week of April 15, we will begin working on Palafox Street between Garden and Romana streets,” wrote Gulf Power project manager Jeremy Gunn in an email to downtown businesses. “Work in this area will take about six months as we move south on Palafox, where we will eventually end on Zaragoza Street.”

This modernization involves the replacement of concrete-encased duct systems, power cables, transformers and protection equipment. Crews will work four 12-hour days and avoid Friday work when possible so not to conflict with weekend events for downtown businesses.

“We are committed to working this project safely and as quickly as possible,” said Gunn. “Thanks again for your patience and your support during this vital project.

Gulf Power Parachutes Inweekly has been told approximately 280 Gulf Power employees have received enhanced retirement packages. Employees who are 50 years or older and have 10 years of service with the company are qualified for the packages. They have been given various dates as to when they would have to make the final decision.

Paws on Palafox Bring your best canine pal and join the folks at the Pensacola Humane Society on Saturday, April 27, at 10 a.m. for a 3K fun walk. People and dogs of all ages are invited to wind through the streets of downtown Pensacola to help raise funds for our shelter animals and the Barbara Grice Memorial Spay and Neuter Clinic.

Walkers will start near Pensacola Bay in Plaza de Luna Park at the south end of Palafox Street. The course includes the historic district and our downtown business district and concludes back in Plaza de Luna Park. The course will include water and treat stations for all participants, human and canine.

Visit pensacolahumane.org/paws-on-palafox to register and to see all the ways you can participate as an individual, a “pack” organizer, member of a pack or sponsor.

Farm to Table Dinner Blue Wahoos Stadium will host its second annual “Under the Lights: Farm to Table” dinner experience 7-9 p.m. Saturday, May 11. A limited number of tickets for the event are on sale now and are expected to sell out quickly. The spring event follows the sold-out inaugural Farm to Table dinner hosted on the field last fall.

The full-course, family-style farm-to-table dinner will be held on the second and third baselines of Admiral Fetterman Field at Blue Wahoos Stadium, giving ticket holders a chance to experience the Blue Wahoos Stadium from a perspective typically reserved only for baseball players. Ticket holders will be treated to a menu highlighting fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, artfully prepared by Executive Chefs James Briscione and Joel Pena, with wine selected by Brooke Parkhurst.

Briscione is a chef, author and Food Network personality. He was the first-ever two-time Chopped champion and is the host of the award-winning Food Network digital series “Man Crafted.”

Parkhurst is a novelist, cookbook author and former host of ABC’s internet and digital cable food series “Eat & Greet.” Briscione and Parkhurst regularly appear on Dr. Oz and have been featured guests on “The Today Show” and “Fox & Friends.” Their first restaurant, Angelena’s Ristorante Italiano, is set to open in Spring 2019 in downtown Pensacola.

Tickets for the inaugural “Under the Lights: Farm to Table” dinner are priced at $125 and may be purchased at the Blue Wahoos Box Office, located at 351 W. Cedar St., or on bluewahoos.com.

Mark Your Calendar Join District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh for the next Coffee with the Commissioner, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 24, at McDonald’s, 5 S. Blue Angel Parkway.

The Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce will hold its inaugural Annual Community Awards at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the Brownsville Community Center, 3200 W. Desoto St.