Friday, December 05, 2014

Persistence of citizens prevails in dumping order: My St. Augustine Record column, 2008

St. Augustine Record column, 2008: Persistence of citizens prevails in dumping order

St. Augustine
Published Sunday, May 25, 2008
I am proud to live in our Nation's Oldest (European-founded) City because of our citizens' character and diversity. Thanks to you, on May 12, City Commissioners unanimously approved a consent decree with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP): It guarantees that solid waste illegally dumped in our Old City Reservoir will be disposed of properly in a Class I landfill -- it will not be returned to our historic African-American community of Lincolnville. Commissioners unanimously voted Nov. 13 to support Commissioner Errol Jones' ill-advised motion to send waste back to Lincolnville.

On May 12, commissioners heard and heeded hundreds who turned out at the St. Paul's A.M.E. Church on Dec. 13 and January 10, supporting the seven community activists who asked FDEP to stop Lincolnville dumping (Judith and Anthony Seraphin, Diane and Gerald Mills, Dr. Dwight Hines, David Thundershield Queen and me).

The people have won yet another round against City Hall. Your victory bodes well for what our community can do to observe 11,000 years of history (450th anniversary of St. Augustine and 500th anniversary of Spanish Florida).

As Dana Ste. Claire rightly urged, we must celebrate diversity. We need a St. Augustine National Historical Park, National Seashore and National Scenic Coastal Highway, about which County Commissioners may schedule a straw ballot vote.

I agree with former Mayor George Gardner, who rightly blasted the lack of energy and creativity in our city's Heritage Tourism Department.

Our City Hall needs a clean sweep.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it best, "A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again."

Mead also said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead visited Oak Ridge, Tenn., and exposed its provincialism, not knowing secrecy perpetrated a massive environmental crime.

Twenty-five years ago, on May 17, 1983, our small weekly newspaper (Appalachian Observer) won declassification of the largest mercury pollution event in world history. Our federal government in Oak Ridge, emitted 4.2 million pounds of mercury into creeks, groundwater and workers' lungs and brains -- more than was dumped in Minimata, Japan.

Oak Ridge's pollution scandal started scrutiny of the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex -- a cleanup still ongoing.

Then-Rep. Al Gore held an investigative hearing in Oak Ridge on July 11, 1983, swearing in witnesses (a nuclear complex first). I called for criminal prosecution of mercury-dumping Union Carbide and Department of Energy officials.

For decades, Oak Ridge residents were afraid to speak out. As a result, government environmental crimes were never punished.

Contrast that with the free, independent spirit of today's St. Augustinians, who swiftly achieved significant results against one of the worst abuses of power anywhere.

Like Oak Ridge's mindless, maniacal mercury-dumpers, St. Augustine's city manager was never reprimanded for dumping solid waste in the Old City Reservoir -- William Harriss got a pass (and a plaque) in the midst of a pending criminal investigation.

Unanswered questions remain 27 months after St. Augustine dumping was reported. Other local dumps await investigation/cleanup. (To report pollution, call the National Response Center, 1-800-424-8802). The illegal city dump at the south end of Riberia Street awaits a consent decree and cleanup. Our search for truth continues.

With your help and prayers, our city will become a much better place for all of our citizens.

As we sang at St. Paul's on Jan. 10, "we shall overcome."

Ed Slavin earned a degree in diplomacy from Georgetown University and a law degree from Memphis State University; he was recommended for a Pulitzer Prize by Oak Ridge District Attorney Jim Ramsey in 1983.

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