Monday, March 06, 2017

2006 Ed Slavin St. Augustine Record column on City's environmental crimes, quoting John Hankinson

John Henry Hankinson, Jr., R.I.P.

In 2006, the late John Henry Hankinson, Jr., former EPA R4 Regional Administrator, encouraged me. He encouraged me to ask questions about the City of St. Augustine's illegal dumping into "an open sore straight down to the aquifer/groundwater." Result: a major public interest victory in 2008. Postscript: the City later said that there 2as 40,000 cubic yards of illegal dumping into our Old City Reservoir. Here's my St. Augustine Record column from June 25, 2017:

St. Augustine: We can make it much better
Ed Slavin
St. Augustine
Published Sunday, June 25, 2006

In Oak Ridge, Tenn., in 1983 and in St. Augustine, Fla., in 2006, the stories were similar. In Oak Ridge, nuclear installations perpetrated the largest mercury pollution event in world history -- 4.2 million pounds, declassified on May 17, 1983.

In 2006, our city of St. Augustine polluted our Old City Reservoir, where people bass-fished and swam for decades. Violating St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) orders -- dumping even after criminal investigators arrived Feb. 27.

Former EPA Regional Administrator John Hankinson calls the city's coquina lake "an open sore straight down to the aquifer/groundwater."

Current City Commissioners ran as reformers, promising not to "rubber-stamp" City Manager William Harriss. Now they're on his team, junketing to NYC, Spain and Germany.

Amid a criminal investigation, commissioners in March presented Harriss an award, expressing "confidence", later terming dumping a "mistake."

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) photos show bedsprings, tanks, old refrigerators, pipes, electrical cable, toilets, metal, plastic, asphalt -- 20,000-cubic-yards of unpermitted contaminants from our city's old illegal dump on Riberia Street -- dumped in water.

That's enough to fill in six Olympic size swimming pools six-feet-deep (or cover a football field 11.2 feet).

On Feb. 24, Mayor George Gardner told me that he was told that the dumping was "clean fill." Even if that were true, it would have been illegal, violating SJRWMD's orders. Furthermore, "there are no bedsprings in clean fill," as retired EPA regulator John Marler says.

Our city's secrecy and 20,000-cubic-yards of unpermitted water pollution symbolizes a crisis of spirit.

Just how secretive?

Our city refuses to web-post commission agenda-packet documents on its Web site, unpersuasively claiming it's "too expensive." What dupery and flummery. St. Johns County Commissioners and SJRWMD web-post such documents. Congress and legislature web-post bills/reports.

Our city is too secretive. We need government watchdogs.

That's why SJRWMD, Miami-Dade County, state and federal agencies all have independent inspectors general. Our city and county need them, too. We need open national searches for the next city manager (with annual performance evaluations).

What other reforms should we consider?

Let's protect employees against retaliation, protecting the flow of information. Let's investigate our city's $45 million budget. Let's remedy its lack of planning. Let's reform purchasing. We need more competitive bidding and energy conservation. Can we start buying gasoline intelligently; by long-term contract (not spot market phone quotes)?

Can we use hybrid vehicles and recycled cooking oil fuels instead of diesel (like SJC)? Can we use GPS monitoring for vehicles?

Time-Warner cable TV's city franchise expired in 2004. Can we seek better deals, including wireless internet (WiFi) to attract sophisticated visitors and small businesses? City Commissioners voted a questionable new 10-year lease, ignoring public hearing witnesses -- every single one of whom testified against Time Warner.

Traffic snarls our city. Time to discuss trolley cars, as in 1920s? Our city gets only about $50,000 in federal grants annually; it missed the deadline for a $1 million state grant to fix City Hall/Lightner's roof. Can we do better to preserve history and promote heritage tourism?

Commissioners voted for stripmall/condos north of SAHS, preserving only part of a 3,000- to 4,000-year-old archaeological site. The developer-consultant's archeology report wasn't first provided to government archeologists.

Let's preserve 10,000 years of history with an emerald necklace of parks.

JFK said, "a rising tide lifts all boats." Let's help create good jobs; raising living standards. Let's consider a Living Wage ordinance, like other Florida jurisdictions.

Let's respect/protect diversity and human rights/lives with equality/ fairness in hiring/services and disaster planning -- including evacuation help and pet-friendly shelters.

America was founded to put people first. "We the people" are sovereign. We deserve "government of the people, by the people and for the people," in Lincoln's words.

Ask questions. Demand answers. Expect democracy. See

Think globally, act locally.

Help change history right here in our Nation's Oldest City. Let's elect reformers (and watchdog them).

St. Augustinians get to overthrow our government every two years.

(Slavin is a former practicing attorney and a frequent and outspoken critic of city policies and politics).

1 comment:

Warren Celli said...

"St. Augustinians get to overthrow our government every two years."

And you can overthrow tyranny with your money EVERY DAY by boycotting the misogynistic downtown merchants that have hijacked your government, oppress you, and denied justice to Michelle O'Connell;

Keep up the great work Ed!