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The Buzz 3/1/12

GREEN TEAM Pensacola officials recently revived the city’s Environmental Advisory Board, following the group’s half-year hiatus. The EAB is tasked with identifying and dealing with environmental concerns in the city.

“I personally want you to be creative,” Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers told the board during its Feb. 22 meeting.

Prior to the EAB’s break, the board had been looking into a number of issues including sediment in Carpenter Creek and the possibility of using green janitorial supplies. During the February meeting, the group revisited concerns regarding leaching utility poles.

Apparently, studies from the state showed evidence of utility poles leaching chemicals into the ground as far away as six feet from the base of the pole. The poles are located in the vicinity of Creighton Avenue and Davis Highway.

“We know that it’s leaching number two diesel fuel,” said Myers. “It’s still leaking, it’s still wet.”

Board member Peter Dohms noted that the chemicals were not out of the ordinary, but that they were not “staying in the pole where it belongs.” He said he did not know if the poles in question were the exception or the rule.

“It certainly seems sloppy,” he said. “But maybe sloppy is the name of the game.”

In addition to leaching utility poles, the board also discussed decreasing the amount of impermeable surface at Bayview Park. Members agreed to explore the option of removing the boat ramp parking lot near the shore of Bayou Texar.

Christian Wagley, a member of Mayor Ashton Hayward’s newly formed Urban Redevelopment Committee, also addressed the EAB. He spoke to the board about his time spent on an environmental board assembled by Escambia County—that board was disbanded, and by Wagley’s account was ultimately a “failure.”

“If you don’t have a framework and a plan, you just kind of sit there saying, ‘What are we doing today?’” he told the board, urging them to focus. “I wish you well.”

The EAB also addressed some general housekeeping issues. Chairman Robert Neiger wanted to know who the board might turn to insofar as staff.

“Who’s going to be our person in the building, to provide, oh, I don’t know—name plates?” he asked, motioning where a name plate might sit. “The little things that aren’t here intrigue me. Who’s doing this?”

A representative from Escambia County informed the board that the city of Pensacola and Escambia County had an agreement which allowed for county staff to act as the EAB’s staff.

The city’s Environmental Advisory Board will meet on the fourth Wednesday of each month at Pensacola City Hall. The next meeting in March 28.

SHERIFF’S A/V CLUB The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is apparently still working with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in an effort to ensure that inmates can meet privately with their attorneys.

“There has not been a lawsuit,” said the ACLU’s Benjamin Stevenson, correcting recent media accounts. “We’re continuing to work with the sheriff’s office to try to reach an informal agreement.”

The ACLU of Florida contacted the sheriff’s office in mid-February in regards to the installation of video recording equipment in attorney-inmate conference rooms. The organization felt the recordings infringed on an inmate’s constitutional right to meet privately with an attorney.

“The installation of video cameras in these interview rooms would materially interfere with this important interchange and communication between attorneys and clients,” Stevenson wrote to the sheriff’s office in February.

The ACLU attorney said that the group was trying talk with the sheriff’s office, but said the office had not seemed particularly open to the conversation.

“Maybe they’re open—maybe they’re open to us not having a problem,” Stevenson said. “Did they say something like ‘Oh, we see your problem, we’re not going to install cameras,’ no, they didn’t say that.”

Last year, the ACLU discovered that the sheriff’s office interview rooms contained equipment which allowed officers to listen in on attorney-client conversations. Sheriff David Morgan said that the office had not known of that capability, and had since had the equipment disabled.

BUSINESS CHALLENGE CONTINUES Thirty hopeful contestants are still dreaming of a storefront opportunity on Palafox Street.

The current Pensacola Business Challenge field was narrowed down from 100-plus applicants. The remaining 30 finalist got together for a pep-talk in February at Vinyl Music Hall downtown.

Contest Sponsors Quint and Rishy Studer told the group they had been “blown away” by the applicants.

“We know what it’s like that first year of business,” Quint Studer told the applicants.

The Studers are conducting the Pensacola Business Challenge in order to offer an aspiring business owner—or someone wishing to relocate their business—a leg up in their venture. The winner of the challenge will be awarded a reduced-rent lease at a South Palafox storefront, as well as $25,000 in start-up money and an ongoing business mentorship.

Mayor Ashton Hayward showed up at Vinyl for the event. He commended the contents for takings risks.

“This is truly about celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit,” Hayward said.

By the first week of March, judges will thin the business challenge field even further. Andrew Rothfeder—tasked with handling the challenge’s ins and outs—said that there is no pre-determined number of applicants that will advance to the next field. The contestants that do advance will be giving “elevator pitches” in March.

TRIAL OR SETTLEMENT? BP’s court date in New Orleans has been delayed, reportedly so that the company and the federal government can have another go at a settlement. The figure of $14 billion is being unofficially tossed about.
The Gulf Restoration Network released a statement following the trial’s postponement, stating that the organization felt that it was unfortunate the public would not be afforded the benefit of a trial.

“This trial holds the promise of finally determining that BP and their partners were grossly negligent in the events leading up to the BP Deepwater drilling disaster, which continues to plague our Gulf,” said GRN’s Deputy Director Aaron Viles in the statement.

The restoration network listed three concerns which needed to be addressed, regardless of settlement or trial: Restoring the Gulf—a settlement must secure the equivalent of BP’s Clean Water Act liabilities of $21 billion for restoration initiatives above and beyond the Natural Resource Damage Assessment efforts;  Protecting the Gulf—BP and their co-defendants must commit at least $100 million to fund a Gulf Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council to increase oil industry transparency and community accountability; Long-term monitoring of the health of the Gulf—a research fund of $5 to $10 billion should be established to make sure that the ongoing threats to the Gulf presented by BP’s oil and other ecological challenges are well researched and adequately responded to.