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Legal delay to cleanup of old public works site in Brooksville swept aside

BROOKSVILLE — After years of delays, cleanup of the contaminated old public works compound in south Brooksville may begin soon.

On Tuesday, an administrative law judge signed an order closing the last open legal challenge to Hernando County's remediation plan.

"We are hopeful that this will be the start of the final approval of the remedial action plan" by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, county engineer Brian Malmberg said in an email. "We are looking forward to getting started on the work outlined in the plan.''

The plan includes a laundry list of methods that the county will use to remove, treat or block the public from the contaminants in the soil and water at the site at 201 W Dr. M.L. King Jr. Blvd. Contaminants ranging from arsenic to petroleum products were absorbed into the site while the county ran public works and fleet operations there years ago.

After the contamination was found, the county took little action to clean it up. More than a decade later, the county ordered several years of soil and water sampling, which was needed to determine the width and depth of the plume of chemicals.

After the analysis, a county consultant drew up a cleanup plan, which includes removal of some additional soil, capping portions of the site with concrete, adding chemical agents to neutralize contaminants and other means of remediation.

DEP gave its tentative approval in 2010, but the county sought a delay until officials with the county and the consultant could meet with the predominantly African-American residents of south Brooksville and explain the details.

At that meeting, in September, residents argued that the plan didn't go far enough because the entire neighborhood had been fouled by the chemicals. Several adjacent property owners said their lots were contaminated, and they blamed the pollution for sickening their family members and friends.

They said the county had overlooked the problem for years because of racial bias and that a wider swath of the neighborhood needed to be included in the cleanup plan.

Residents also argued that there was a conspiracy and that corruption and secrecy had left the issues unresolved.

Using those arguments, the owners of two of the properties near the site — Almazine and Howard Delaine and Booker T. Byrd — challenged the plan formally with the DEP, and the cases were forwarded to the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings.

While hearings were set for next month to decide the cases, Assistant County Attorney Richard Appicello recently sought dismissal of the cases on the basis that none of the original arguments made by the residents addressed the content of the remediation plan.

The judge agreed, giving the residents one final chance to hire an attorney and present a legally relevant argument as to why the cleanup plan should be rejected.

Their deadline was Friday. No arguments were offered, and the judge closed the file.

According to DEP spokeswoman Ana Gibbs, the county can proceed once it gets notice of final agency approval.

Malmberg couldn't predict when work at the site may begin.

"The county will need to finalize the design documentation for the procedures outlined in the (remediation plan),'' he said.

"We are estimating a cost to complete the procedures as outlined in the (plan) to be approximately $450,000," Malmberg said. "This will be spent over the estimated four-year cycle of the project."

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

Legal delay to cleanup of old public works site in Brooksville swept aside 03/28/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 8:23pm]
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