Today I have hope.
Last night, Escambia County Commissioners did the right thing. Unanimously.
And in spite of the fact that they had all of the technical cover in the world not to.
I have seen enough government dysfunction in this area to think in my darker moments that only thing that could prod this community to move forward would be a hurricane.
But last night, reason won out over personality; logic trumped political boundaries or differences.
Commissioners voted unanimously to delay the renewal of a permit to allow the Longleaf C&D pit to come back into use.
The pit, which is owned by Waste Management Inc., would need a solid waste management permit to come back on line. A permit originally was issued for the facility in 2006. Neighbors have complained for years about the noise, and health concerns they have.
Two of them were at last night’s meeting, begging commissioners not to reopen the 40-acre facility. Commission Chairman Lumon May said he had asked county staff to conduct soil, air and water quality tests at the site before the public hearing to renew the permit came up and report the results to commissioners.
But as of last night, those tests hadn’t been done. So Chairman May wanted to delay the vote on the permit renewal until the tests he’d asked for were done. Commissioner Grover Robinson seconded the motion.
“I would hope that we do that with all of these pits,” May said.
But for last night, he would have settled for having it done at Longleaf.
Commissioner Robinson asked if the Longleaf pit “was in current violation?”
From the lectern, solid waste management director Pat Johnson told commissioners that the Longleaf pit met the county’s criteria to be issued a permit to operate.
But it is under a groundwater remediation plan from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“What’s the basis for a recommendation (to approve the permit) if they have problems?” asked Commissioner Wilson Robertson.
The agenda materials before commissioners didn’t say anything about groundwater issues according to DEP, said Commissioner Steven Barry.
Are you ready, folks? Here it comes.
The county guidelines for permits for construction and demolition debris pits don’t say that you have to list state issues, Johnson said. That would come up when they apply for their state permit.
“That’s very concerning,” Barry said. “If it’s not part of our ordinance, it is certainly part of the discussion and deliberation we should have. That non-inclusion is what ends up six months from now coming out that they are under a 36-month groundwater remediation order and we haven’t the faintest idea as the board that voted on the operation (of the pit) there. The public doesn’t believe that we don’t know that.
“I would like that information even if it’s not part of our ordinance. That’s a reasonable amount of information to have.”
Can the church say amen?
May had the information, though. He got it from Florida DEP, and more importantly, he shared it with the rest of the class.
If only he had gotten it from his own county’s staff, who are paid, in part, to help officials like May make good, informed decisions.
Brandy Smith, outreach coordinator for DEP for this district, said DEP is awaiting a proposed remedial action plan from the facility to address groundwater impacts on site.
“Once we receive the proposed plan we will review, and if we determine it sufficient, approve. Once approved the facility will have 120 days to implement the approved remedial action plan,” Smith said..
All of the commissioners agreed that soil, air and water quality testing ought to be protocol for the renewal of such facilities, which have raised health and safety concerns in neighborhoods throughout the county.
“Set up the criteria that’s right out in your face and do it consistently,” said Commissioner Gene Valentino.
So friends, when people tell you that it is too hard to get things done here, that too often we are our own worst enemy, that merry-go-round of local politics can’t be stopped, point to this moment.
We got it right. In spite of ourselves.
Now we have to do it all of the time. Not just for the Longleaf C&D pit, but every time.
The excuse can’t be that it is hard, or that one guy doesn’t like the other, or so-so is too difficult to deal with. Or that technically, the fact that one agency has an environmental remediation plan in place on a facility isn’t a box that needs to be checked off on my form.
Next time, let’s worry a little less about the box and worry a little more about what’s best for the community.
Erring on the side of doing the right thing is always a win.