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Outtakes 2/3/11

DON’T DRINK THE WATER, PART 2 There is something about the month of January that attracts weird news stories. A year ago, I got in trouble with the Emerald Coast Utility Authority for joking that the cause for the bizarre stories must have something to do with what’s in our water.

In January 2010 the Escambia County Commission was caught up in explaining why it wanted to rebid a drainage project. The Arts Council of Northwest Florida was being investigated by the State Attorney’s Office after an audit revealed county funds weren’t being properly distributed to arts groups, and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas cut off negotiations with Friendship Missionary Baptist Church for the dilapidated Brownsville Middle School.

This year, ECUA’s drinking water is still under criticism, topping the website 24/7 Wall St.’s list of “Top 10 American Cities with the Worst Drinking Water.” The list was compiled using data collected by Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, D.C., which lambasted last year the ECUA water supply, so it’s no surprise the utility is still being criticized.

The January 2011 news stories include the collapse of AES HR Solutions, the battle over DeLuna Fest’s dates, the firing of Maritime Park Development Partners and the misrepresentations by Aquarium for Pensacola, which, I think, beat last year’s list.

AES HR Solutions handled the payroll for several local businesses. Its owner, Donald Moore, is a business partner with Commissioner Wilson Robertson and has been a big contributor to political campaigns over the years. He wined and dined government officials at his hunting camp in Santa Rosa County. In January, AES abruptly shut down when its payroll checks started to bounce. The worthless checks triggered both Escambia County Sheriff and State Attorney investigations.

While that was hitting the papers, Community Maritime Park Associates attorney Ed Fleming was presenting his case for terminating all contracts with the maritime park’s master developer, Maritime Park Development Partners. Fleming argued that Land Capital Group and later MPDP “fraudulently induced” the master development contract. The CMPA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to get rid of MPDP. The next stop will be the court system.

On Pensacola Beach, the Santa Rosa Island Authority is upset that it’s second most popular public event behind the Blue Angels show, DeLuna Fest, didn’t tell them that it wanted to move its concert dates to the first week of October. Three other events want the same weekend. Solution? Make DeLuna Fest buy the weekend by cutting checks to the Santa Rosa Island Triathlon, Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Art & Wine Weekend and Pensacola Beach Songwriters’ Festival. Punish the new kids and teach them to mind their elders.

The story of the Aquarium for Pensacola’s downfall is even more bizarre. For months, the project proponents had trumpeted their idea for using the tanks of the Main Street Sewage Plant for an aquarium. They claimed to have 70,000 petition signatures, 10,000 of which were collected in a two-week period before the ECUA advisory committee meeting, and letters of support from nearly every politician that you can name.

They used those petitions and letters, without ever having to present them, to convince the committee to recommend delaying the demolition of plant. Now it appears the petitions and letters of support never existed.

All I can figure is that we will continue to have weird January news stories until we do something about the drinking water.

rick@inweekly.net