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Challenges put off long-delayed cleanup of a county-owned site in Brooksville even longer

BROOKSVILLE — A cleanup of the contaminated former public works site in south Brooksville, already delayed for several years, will have to wait a while longer.

While the county got state approval for a plan to remove, treat or block the toxins on the site in 2010, officials put off the required public notice of the approval until they could meet with area residents to talk about specifics.

At that meeting in September, residents argued that capping the site with concrete, removing more dirt, adding chemical agents to clean the soil and other means proposed in the cleanup plan, were not addressing their real concern.

They argued that the entire community surrounding the site at 201 W Martin Luther King Blvd. including Mitchell Heights, also suffered from the same pollution by solvents, petroleum products and other chemicals. They wanted a solution that would somehow repair the damage to the community, which they blamed on years of neglect by city, county and state officials.

Now some of those residents have formally challenged the plan approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection. So far two of several complaints filed have been found to be legally sufficient to be sent on to the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings. One other complaint is also under review and could be forwarded to that agency.

The two cases, one filed by Almazine and Howard Delaine and the other by Booker T. Byrd, have been consolidated into one case which will likely be heard by an administrative law judge later this year. Until the challenges are done, however, the county cannot move forward with the clean-up of the site.

The Delaine property is adjacent to the public works compound and in their complaint, the Delaines argue that the pollutants on the compound have also spilled into their backyard. They note that high levels of arsenic were found on their property and that health officials gave them a letter that warns them to take precautions when exposed to the soil.

The complaint states that family and friends have been exposed to unhealthy conditions and that the county has done nothing other than buying up two other homes in the community and razing them.

The complaint goes on to challenge the remediation plan arguing that the contamination continues to rise up out of the site and pollute the surrounding area. The Delaines statements also accuse officials of bias and secrecy. They state that documents related to the cleanup, including one that indicated all the neighbors in the area should be relocated, have gone missing.

The complaint says the county and the DEP have been negligent over the years in safeguarding the health of area residents, calling it "a conspiracy of the highest magnitude.''

"This neglect as carried out by the conspiratorial actions of the (DEP), the county and the city of Brooksville has resulted in the premature deaths of a significant number of residents of south Brooksville,'' the Delaines allege in their petition.

Byrd, who filed the other petition for an administrative hearing, lives adjacent to a drainage pond which holds water from the old public works complex. His complaint mirrors that of the Delaines on various points of history, noting how residents have long been exposed to cancer-causing substances in the neighborhood.

"As a petitioner, I believe that all of the streets, A Street, B Street, C Street, D Street, Bethune and Booker T streets should all be included'' as contaminated and a solution found for the entire neighborhood, Byrd wrote.

Similar cases of complaints filed with the Division of Administrative Hearings can take months or longer to resolve.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Challenges put off long-delayed cleanup of a county-owned site in Brooksville even longer 01/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 7:17pm]
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