Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Arsenic and Old Lace," Developers and Desuetude

Why Did City of St. Augustine Rush to Annex Arsenic-Contaminated Land and Why Should We Designate It a "Brownfield" Now?

This is another beautiful day in a beautiful place, a small seaside city in Northeast Florida, one which we all love and seek to preserve, protect and defend against rapacious developers.

It now appears that our City government hastily annexed an arsenic-contaminated site for residential housing -- hundreds of acres -- ignoring citizen concerns and expert testimony by Dr. Alfred Hirsch, a geologist and expert on arsenic and pollution.

The contaminated site is the Old Ponce de Leon Golf Course, operated from 1916-2003. The major contaminant is arsenic, but other contaminants have not been adequately documented by the developer, CHESTER STOKES.

Where else in the world does a City annex a contaminated site, knowing it to be contaminated, planning to put housing on it (increasing the City population by 10%), without proper environmental studies?

You tell me.

Current City of St. Augustine City Commissioners ERROL JONES and DONALD CRICHLOW (and then-Commissioner WILLIAM LENNON), voted for the annexation and development of a contaminated site, knowing it was contaminated. Commissioners said they trusted federal and state regulators to do the right thing.

The contamination issue has been only partially addressed (due to lack of complete data from the developer). Read for yourself the report of the Florida Department of Health (DOH), working with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

State and federal environmental regulators
have waited several years for the developer's studies.

Those regulators
have found that the site has not yet been completely or properly studied, including January 23, 2006 DOH/ATSDR findings that:
1. The annexed property is an "indeterminate public health hazard." (Page 17).
2. "For purposes of public health assessment, site owners have not adequately characterized surface water quality." (Page 10).
3. "Future residents could theoretically breathe contaminated soil and sediment, if these media are not adequately characterized and remediated." (Page 18).
4. " developers have not adequately characterized the extent of contamination of environmental media... (page 18)
5. "DEP will not be able to accept a remedial action plan until the information requested for the Contamination Assessment Report has been provided." (Page 50).
6. The developer did not provide information on sample locations for all of its tests. (Pages 12, 54).
7. "The quality of these reports is not what DEP and DOH are accustomed to receiving." (Page 50).
8. There may be more contamination, including "forgotten or buried dumps." (Page 12).
9. There may be a need for deed restrictive covenants against digging, shallow groundwater use and other actions that may expose people to arsenic. (Pages 5,
10. 800 tons of contaminated soil has already been removed, with more removal (and capping with dirt) likely to be required.
Large contaminated site now in City limits: Some 71% -- 284 of 400 acres -- may now be designated as a "brownfield," the St. Augustine Record reports, see below.

The City and developer have not explained what advantage there is for our City to designate the golf course as a "brownfield."

"Brownfield" designation could confer financial benefits on the developer, but efforts to learn why the City would want to make the "brownfield" designation have thus far been unavailing. We will quote CHESTER STOKES' answer here.

See straw public opinion poll, collection of St. Augustine Record articles and letters at (and City Commission minute excerpts, below).

Residents, children and pets could be at risk from this "indeterminate public health hazard," the Florida Department of Health says, with the developer not having done all of the testing that should have been done to date.

Current Commissioners ERROLL JONES and DONALD CRICHLOW fell meekly in line behind controversial City MANAGER WILLIAM B. HARRISS in support of the developer, CHESTER STOKES.

HARRISS and Commissioners should apologize and hold their heads in shame at the environmental hazard (five feet above sea level) which they have exacerbated and created by proposing to build some 749 homes on top of arsenic-contaminated soil, without due diligence before their annexation.

Dr. Alfred Hirsch, a geologist and expert on arsenic and pollution, testified before City Commissioners on October 13, 2003 -- excerpts from the City minutes appear below.

The "brownfield" issue is expected to be addressed at the September 25, 2006 St. Augustine City Commission meeting and at a meeting the developer is holding at Casa Monica Hotel on September 26, 2006.

Citizens are expected to closely question officials what benefit there is to our City from the "brownfield" designation and whether the area should be de-annexed from our City.

You've really got to hand it to the lackluster leadership of the municipal government of the City of St. Augustine, Florida.

Not only has our City government, behind closed doors, taken the entire contents of the old illegal city landfill
(30 million pounds of contaminants) and dumped it into the Old City Reservoir (with Mayor George Gardner erroneously told by City Manager WILLIAM B. HARRIS that it was "clean fill." (Of course, as a retired EPA regulator told me, "there are no bedsprings in clean fill." See below).

Perhaps even worse is our City government's documented insouciance about arsenic-contaminated land being used for hundreds of homes -- a plan to add 10% to our City's population.

What's going on here?

Does our Nation's Oldest City have the government our people and history deserve?

Is it time for EPA to take the lead on this site, with sampling and investigation by the EPA's SESD laboratory in Athens, Georgia -- instead of fox-in-charge-of-the-henhouse self-monitoring by the developer's hired guns, whose inaccurate data was blasted by DOH/ATSDR/CDC.

What do you think?

An Inconvenient Truth -- City Knew of Arsenic Contamination of Old Ponce De Leon Golf Links, Approved Annexation and Housing Anyway

Rushing to judgment, our St. Augustine City Commissioners voted to annex and place 789 homes on top of land they knew to be contaminated with arsenic and other chemicals -- is this misfeasance, malfeasance allowing them to be recalled by the electorate? What do you think?

What did our St. Augustine City Commissioners know and when did they know it.

Read all about it.

Commissioner DONALD CRICHLOW Says He's "Unopposed," Now Claims to Care About Neighborhoods, Treees

Preserving neighborhoods important, vital

St. Augustine
Publication Date: 09/24/06

In the midst of the campaigning this election season, I am privileged to be unopposed for re-election to the City Commission and look forward to serving the citizens of St. Augustine for another four years.

I want to thank you for your support and invite you to a Town Hall meeting to discuss some of the issues we have before us as a community. While you will not see my name on the ballot in November, you will see an initiative that I sponsored.

These past four years have seen improvement in the quality of life for residents and enhancement of the experience of St. Augustine for our many visitors. Inevitably, there is still more to be done.

I want to hear from you, the citizens of St. Augustine, and listen to your ideas, concerns or initiatives you might suggest for the next four years. Toward this end, I am holding a Town Hall meeting, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the Council on Aging, 180 Marine St., at 7 p.m. Please plan to attend and share your thoughts.

Among the issues we need to discuss is a growing threat to neighborhoods. Just in the past year, more of our neighborhoods have experienced troubling change. More houses are being torn down and replaced with as many as three new houses crammed together on the same land. We are seeing more new houses towering over neighboring houses and changing the character of our neighborhoods. We are seeing more loss of our magnificent tree canopy. The integrity of our unique neighborhoods is under attack, threatening to alter forever what is special about St. Augustine.

While I support and acknowledge the need for change and new development, I believe that change should adapt to St. Augustine, not the other way around.

The initiative that will appear on the general election ballot in November asks whether you would support an ordinance that would prevent crowding and overdevelopment in residential neighborhoods by eliminating the trend of "tear downs" and building two or three homes in place of the one that was demolished. I hope that you will support this important initiative so that we can begin to craft an ordinance or other measure to reduce this threat to traditional neighborhoods.

Once the density issue is solved, together we may decide to develop architectural overlay districts, or conservation districts, that will influence the character of new construction in our traditional neighborhoods.

There are, of course, other issues to discuss. I believe in enhancing the experience of our historic downtown area for tourists, but I passionately believe that we should make it more accessible and attractive to the residents of our city as well. Residents who live nearby and their guests shouldn't have to compete with tourists to park in front of their homes. People who live here should be able to shop downtown.

The full implementation of our parking plan will greatly improve the ability of residents and visitors to enjoy St. Augustine. The garage and shuttle system should ease parking for tourists, freeing up spaces downtown for residents who have been frustrated in their attempts to visit downtown for years.

In addition to other changes to improve downtown, including re-bricking streets, we must better manage our harbor, so that those who live on boats or simply moor their boats here are held responsible for their crafts.

We must remain especially vigilant of development in entry corridors. I will continue to press to improve new development like the Sebastian Inland Harbor project near King Street to meet residents' needs. We must revitalize and restore historic areas and enhance state funding of state-owned properties.

We do not know all the issues that will confront us over the next four years. But we will need to make decisions about them based upon a guiding principle. My principle is that the city commissioners are guardians of our city, a national treasure. St. Augustine has been protected for over four centuries and we must not abdicate our generation's responsibility.

Thank you again for your continued support as we move forward together, and I hope to see you on Oct. 4.

Don Crichlow is the city commissioner, district 4, for the city of St. Augustine and is an architect. He is running unopposed for re-election.

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© The St. Augustine Record

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Million Dollars a Minute -- City Commission Rubberstamps New Budget

With a 21% increase in the general fund budget, St. Augustine City Commissioners approved a record $50 million budget in record time -- less than one minute per $1 million at the second public hearing, held on September 21. That's an astounding amount of money considering the kind of government the City of St. Augustine has -- polluting and undemocratic. Among the questions our City refused to answer were the following:
1. What funds and line items in this budget are dedicated to protecting our environment, safety and health and the ability of St. Augustinians to afford to live here?
2. When will we follow zero based budgeting?
3. What savings can be achieved?
4. What economies and efficiencies were considered?
5. What reductions in fuel and electricity use are planned?
6. Can we reduce the number of FTEs by attrition (not hiring new people as employees retire or quit)?
7. What measures of performance justify the large expenditures in the budget?
8. What metrics are used to determine if a program is succeeding or failing?
9. When does our City Commission ever get to do oversight or program evaluation?
10. What measures are considered to determine whether City funds are allocated fairly between neighborhoods and precincts and can we see them?
11. Can you please ask the City staff to present four alternative budgets -- one at the current amounts, one with five and ten percent cuts, and one with a five percent increase?
12. What limitations have been considered on spending -- why should one man be allowed to spend $500,000 on his own say-so?
13. How can you justify having some 400 blanket purchase orders?
14. How does our budget compare with those of similarly sized cities in Florida and the Southeast?
15. What internal controls have been added to prevent waste, fraud and abuse?
16. Why is there no Inspector General and no Ombuds?
17. What principled reason is there for denying some of our citizens storm sewers, sidewalks, street cleaning, while y'all gallivant to Europe annually, using public funds?
18. What limitation is being placed on travel to prevent future abuse and Sunshine violations?
19. When are we going to institute performance appraisals for the City Manager, City Attorney and other managers?
20. When will we have an annual budget with realistic numbers, pegged to achievement of measurable performance standards, and not relying on large annual interfund transfers, anticipated by Mr. Harriss but not discussed?
21. What if the parking garage is a financial failure -- what will you do? Is there an option to privatize it and put it on the property tax rolls?
22. What can we do to generate more revenue and more historic tourism from city-owned properties like Lighthouse Restaurant and St. George Street, whether through sale or better negotiation of lease terms?
23. What about our budget process would you like to see improved or modified?
24. When will all city vehicles be equipped with GPS devices?
25. When will you post all City contracts and purchase orders on the Internet, as Orlando already does?
26. Do you deny that the City budget is gold-plated in a city that describes itself as a poor community to get cheaper state permits?
To be continued.

When I went to work for then-freshman U.S. Senator Jim Sasser in 1977, at age 20, he called the Senate Budget Committee "like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic," comparing its work to "oral group therapy." St. Augustine's City Commission is not even that good. The smallest number the Senate Budget Committee ever discusses is .1 -- which is to say, $100 million.

St. Augustine Commissioners will waste time with the smallest minutiae, but never discuss the future and hopes of our City's residents, preferring to make developers happy. Their insouciant attitude is why two incumbent County Commissioners were defeated in the September 5 Republican Primary, and why more incumbents are headed to defeat, it would appear.

St. Augustine deserves a government as decent and compassionate as its residents.
Enough of unaccountable officials who create toxic hazards and smirk about it.

Toxic Annexation of Golf Course, Refusal to Annex West Augustine

Toxic Annexation of Golf Course, Refusal to Annex West Augustine
Over citizens' objections, our City of St. Augustine annexed a former golf course for residential development, with citizens warning of eight decades of contamination. Now the developer is asking to treat most of the annexed property as brownfields. See article below.
Meanwhile, our mismanaged City refuses to annex West Augustine, an area without many amenities, such as paved streets and sewers, with our City having refused to apply for $4.5 million in grants, while charging 25% more for water and sewer service to West Augustine residents outside the city limits.
As Jeremy Dean's film, "Dare Not Walk Alone" eloquently shows, St. Augustine has Third World Living conditions, while our City's putative leaders are busily obliging developers.

Letter: St. Augustine risks losing its beauty

Letter: St. Augustine risks losing its beauty

John Aranza
Chicago, Ill.
Publication Date: 09/21/06
Editor: I've taken my last eight consecutive May vacations in St. Augustine, and the cumulative, recent changes depressed me this year. It's like Paradise Lost.
State Road 16 and 210 off Interstate 95 have been so built up that they resemble suburbia outside of Chicago, their virgin openness gone forever.
The bridge project from Ponce De Leon to St. Augustine Beach has only encouraged cars to race and speed like on the Dan Ryan Expressway here.
And slowing down on Ponce De Leon to turn off to a business brings instant horn blowing and finger gestures.
Progress, it seems, has also brought big-city nervousness and rudeness -- what my family goes to St. Augustine to leave behind.
I'm afraid that you're losing your historical and romantic charm. Condominiums are on the San Sebastian where a quaint fishing shed was. Gentrification is changing Lincolnville. Up-scaled hotels line Anastasia Boulevard.
This isn't a damnation, but a lament. The ocean, especially as a late night retreat, can't be breached. But can we even be sure of that?
Towns outside Chicago are limiting growth and subdivisions now. This is a nation-wide dilemma.
I just hope that you can imagine from outside of yourselves what you want and what you are actually creating.

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© The St. Augustine Record

Letter: Broudy's block rich in history

Letter: Broudy's block rich in history

David Nolan
St. Augustine
Publication Date: 09/18/06
Editor: The Broudy's Foodway block includes not only the grocery store, but also the most endangered historic building in St. Augustine.
The Clark-Worley House at 212 West King Street is located just west of the market. A century and a quarter old, it was the residence of railroad pioneer F. M. Clark (for whom nearby Clark Street is named). It was later the home of Dr. Samuel Worley who ran an adjacent hospital that was once visited by the president of the United States.
I think we still have some citizens who can boast of having been born in the Worley hospital.
This wonderful ñ and rare ñ example of Queen Anne-style Victorian architecture, topped with a distinctive tower, has long been recognized as one of the visual and historical treasures of the Ancient City, as well as the gateway to West Augustine.
Developers are always coming and asking us to do favors for them. We should ask them to do something for us as well. Any plan to develop this property should include the restoration of the landmark Clark-Worley House.

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© The St. Augustine Record

Letter: Send remaining incumbents packing

Letter: Send remaining incumbents packing

Thomas Smith
St. Augustine
Publication Date: 09/18/06

Editor: I recently noted Commissioner Jim Bryant's outcry of "foul" and threats of a lawsuit against Commissioner Ben Rich. Doubtless, this will be funded by the developers and builders that have so generously contributed to his campaign and well -being. I am sure he feels that if he can stop Mr. Rich, he and all his contributors will continue to profit. Don't bet on it Mr. Bryant.

You have become transparent in this county, just as your defeated companions. You will be next.

For my part I would think it more reasonable to lay low and be quiet less the people of this county rise up and write enough letters to the attorney general and the IRS to have you all scrutinized very closely!

In my time, what appears to have been going on here would have been called racketeering ; but I wonder what they call it now?

Now comes the new test. If the new commissioners can reject meetings and promises and gifts from the developers and really vote the will of the people of this county, we actually have a chance to take back our county and have the commissioners work for us and not big development!

If this happens then we can set a high mark for the new commissioners to be elected and send the remaining ones packing. After all, they have not worked for us in a long time.

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© The St. Augustine Record

Letter:City needs to prioritize spending

© The St. Augustine Record

Friday, September 15, 2006

Letter: County swept clean; City needs the same

Letter: County swept clean; City needs the same

David Brian Wallace
St. Augustine
Publication Date: 09/14/06

Editor: Hallelujah! Voters agree: developers are ruining our quality of life. Majorities support protecting and preserving Paradise.

Primary voters defeated two Republican County Commissioners, denying reelection to Bruce Maguire, who spent $16.10/vote (defeated by Tom Manuel, who spent $0.92/vote) and Karen Stern, who spent $25.70/vote (defeated by Ronald Sanchez, who spent $0.91/vote).

In righteous wrath, real people spoke louder than developers' moneybags.

Reverberations are continuing. Real reforms require real reformers.

That's why I support Democrat Ken Bryan against Sanchez on Nov. 7. A Justice Department retiree and upholsterer-businessman, Ken does not cower to power. He will represent all the people and stand up to lawbreakers (like Ashland's polluting SR 207 asphalt plant).

Ugliness/waste will metastasize until citizens are heard and heeded. Our small city proposes a $50 million budget and 21 percent general fund increase, without web-posting spending information.

City Commissioner Donald Crichlow typifies the caste of cold, chauvinistic, condescending corporation-coddling incumbents. He's an architect for developers (representing clients before HARB). On Sept. 2, Crichlow (claiming 1599 ancestry) publicly played Governor Pedro Menendez.

Crichlow once compared gays to birds/dogs (referring to Menendez's 1566 order to murder a gay man for being a "Sodomite and a Lutheran," mocking legal efforts to fly Rainbow flags on our Bridge of Lions).(5/31/2005 Folio). Bigotry?

On Sept. 2, what the city Web site calls "our royalty" bestowed 400 pieces of cake.

As Marie Antoinette said, "Let ëem eat cake."

City Commissioners and developers are not "royalty." Hold them accountable.

Who destroys nature and pollutes our environment, tolerates waste, records withholding, cronyism and rubberstamp-approval of large, ugly projects/buildings? Five incumbent St. Augustine commissioners.

Time to vote to recall them for misfeasance/malfeasance (illegal dumping of illegal Riberia Street city dumps' contents into the Old City Reservoir; First Amendment and Sunshine violations, waste and junkets)?

Keep on voting.

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© The St. Augustine Record

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

City of St. Augustine Safety Hazards Persist -- Workers on Visitor Information Center Roof Without Fall Protection, OSHA Investigates City Contractor

City of St. Augustine Safety Hazards Persist -- Workers on Visitor Information Center Roof Without Fall Protection

Several years ago, after eating with visiting friends at the city-owned Lighthouse Restaurant (now-closed), we saw several workers on the roof with no fall protection.
I telephoned and reported it to the City of St. Augustine's Public Works office, which told me that it would remedy the situation and order fall protection for the city employees immediately. I took the City at its word.

Last Monday, August 28, photographer/documentary J.D. Pleasant and I were checking out our City's new parking garage (more later). We observed two contractor roofing workers on the roof of the Visitor Information Center (VIC). Neither had any fall protection. One of the workers may have been underage.

I reported the situation to OSHA The two workers could have died from fatal falls on the roof of our VIC. I also reported the situation to the DOL Wage-Hour Division, which did not return calls.

J.D. Pleasant took color photographs, documenting the date and time (also showing a construction supervisor with a white hardhat was within sight of the unprotected workers. J.D. provided his color photographs to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the United States Department of Labor in Jacksonville, Florida.

OSHA has inspected and will issue a report, with possible fines. The contractor has a right to appeal fines to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, which will consider whether any violations were willful and life-threatening..

Ironically, if the two workers had been City employees, OSHA could do nothing to protect them -- city, county and state workers are not covered by the OSH Act. A Florida agency that protected city, county and state workers was dismantled by Governor Jeb Bush. As an OSHA official has said, city, county and state workers could "hang from the roof by a string" and there would be nothing that OSHA could do.

If hindsight is 20/20, we should find it all the more unreasonable that our City of St. Augustine is still risking workers' lives and that our federal and Florida governments do nothing little protect city, county and state workers.

When former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil became CEO of ALCOA aluminum, he instituted a program that virtually eliminated workplace deaths and injuries in aluminum production, one of the hottest processes in American industry. How did he do it? He evaluated every executive on their efforts to make the workplace safer. He worked with unions, instead of against them. He made safety everyone's job at ALCOA. He was fired by the second President Bush for being too outspoken, writing a book about it.

Safety was evidently not "everyone's job" at the Department of Labor on July 19, 1989. Anyone enjoying the view of the Capitol and Mall from DOL's sixth floor cafeteria -- and Washingtonians and visitors passing by -- could see that there was an ATV on the roof and roofing workers working with no fall protection.

At the Department of Labor's own headquarters in 1989, a 23 year old roofer was killed, falling off the roof, due to government and contractor negligence.

Several millennia of construction experience teaches that falls (and lack of fall protections) kill workers, the most experienced of whom need fall protection on roofs. So obvious is the proposition about falls and fall protections that a 1990 DOL Monthly Labor Review article begun by quoting a nursery rhyme:
..... When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come baby, cradle and all.
Mother' Goose's Melody (c. 1765).
In nursery rhymes and real life, falls sound an ominous note of human fragility, which if unheeded, can lead to serious injury. Yet, despite the imminent danger, working at heights without adequate fall protection is fairly commonplace today, especially in the construction industry and, in particular, in roofing and sheet metal work. This risky work practice goes far to explain why falls are the leading type of injury and illness in the roofing industry, constituting roughly three-tenths of all its serious cases of injury and illness reported.
According to safety and health experts, most accidents in roof work, as in other industrial settings, are preventable if employers and employees follow safe work procedures.
Martin E. Personick, "Profiles in safety and health: roofing and sheet metal work," 113 Monthly Labor Review No. 9 (September 1990), on the Internet at http://www.bls. gov/opub/mlr/1990/09/art4full.pdf.

One year after the death on it's own rooftop, DOL recited a nursery rhyme to begin a fall protection Monthly Labor Review.

It's not funny: falls from lack of fall protection kill American workers and hurt families.

The father of U.S. Attorney General. Alberto Gonzales, died in 1982 from what was called an "industrial accident" -- a fall from atop a rice mill.
(C-SPAN interview of Hon. Alberto Gonzales, March 16, 2001, rebroadcast November 10, 2004).

Worker deaths and injuries cause pain and suffeirng to millions around the world -- 2.3 million workers die in the workplace or from occupational diseases annually.

The presence of the two unprotected workers on the roof of the VIC is symptomatic of the nonenforcement of worker protection laws in America and in St. Augustine. Call it "desuetude" because that's what it is -- worker proteciton laws are not being enforced adequately.

Our City of St. Augustine tempts fate, apparently failing to protect contractor employees.

Efforts to obtain comment from the City's Chief Operating Officer (John Regan) and Public Relations Director (Paul Williamson) were unsuccessful to date. Our City has a $500,000 annual budget for Public Relations -- what do you get for it? We have a $50 million annual budget -- what do we get for that?

What can our City do to protect workers and our environment? It can start by having a City manager or supervisor present at all city government construction jobs, monitoring compliance with safety, health and environmental laws. Is that too much to ask? The lives we save are precious.

It's our VIC roof, it's our City and it's our country. We have a right to governments that work for the people and not against us. What do you think?