BROOKSVILLE — The long-awaited cleanup of the contamination at the county's old public works compound will have to wait awhile longer.
Four residents of the south Brooksville area where the petroleum- and solvent-polluted compound is located have told the state they object to the proposed cleanup plan.
On Thursday, the state told them they now have even more time to formally protest. Their new deadline to file a formal challenge is Feb. 18.
But the county is willing to extend that deadline even further.
A community meeting that was supposed to take place earlier this month, before the clock started ticking on the time the residents had to file their formal protest, never happened.
And the reason why that meeting was delayed was because Rick Scott was elected governor. The Tampa staff at the state Department of Environmental Protection who had been working with the county on the project were let go when the new governor took over, according to Paul Douglas, president of the local NAACP chapter.
This confusion is just the latest wrinkle in an effort to clean the contaminated site, which has dragged on for roughly 20 years and cost taxpayers millions of dollars without the formal cleaning even beginning.
Assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk explained the latest developments.
The four residents who objected to the cleanup plan — Booker T. Byrd, Bertha Winslett, Richard Howell and Theodore Brown — had 21 days after being personally notified by the state to ask for a hearing on the plan.
The four filed paperwork seeking the extension just a week after the DEP gave them notice that it had approved of the county's plan to move soil, maintain concrete covers, add an oxidant and monitor contamination levels to mitigate the fouled soil and water on the site in December.
But, technically, that 21-day clock never started because the county had agreed to hold the community meeting first, before filing a formal publication of the DEP's approval of the cleanup plan.
Once that public notice appears in the newspaper, the 21-day period for the general public to object then begins.
"We have no objections if they (the residents) ask for a further extension,'' Kirk said, noting that the county wanted to give all interested parties a chance to fully discuss and possibly work through their issues.
The residents asked for the extension for several reasons.
Douglas, of the NAACP, has said he fears that the county's plan doesn't go far enough. He's concerned that the chemical pollution from the old compound has made its way into the Mitchell Heights community through drainage from stormwater.
In separate petitions, the residents said that the order to approve the plan didn't provide enough specific detail so they could respond. While the state's order cited rules and state statute, "petitioners are without sufficient knowledge of the portions of the rule or rules relied on by the department,'' they wrote.
Specifically, the residents note that they believe the DEP should have considered health issues before reaching a conclusion.
Without proof of that in the paperwork and because the county had previously been "antagonistic" to the interests of the community, the residents had ''no faith in the strength of advocacy that was put behind the effort due to its lack of confidence in the ability of the county to fairly and adequately represent their interest,'' they wrote.
In addition, the residents also stated that based on the "slow pace of implementation'' of the elements of the cleanup plan, the plan "does not appear to grasp the sense of urgency with which the affected residents believe rehabilitative actions should be taken.''
The residents say they need the extra time now because the format of the state's order on the plan "denies petitioners due process rights to at least confront the evidence and to dispute it where appropriate.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.