by Jeremy Morrison
The timing of a public meeting hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss remediation options for a Pensacola Superfund site is being categorized as suspect by Rep. Matt Gaetz, (R-FL). The EPA, meanwhile, maintains the local meeting has nothing to do with the freshman congressman from northwest Florida’s recent visit to the Superfund site, or his call to abolish the federal agency charged with overseeing environmental regulations.
On April 26, EPA officials will be in Pensacola for a public meeting focused on the American Creosote Works (ACW) Superfund site, a former wood-treating facility. Officials will outline the agency’s preferred remediation methods for the site and take public comment.
The public meeting was announced April 20, the same day Rep. Gaetz was making the rounds on a Pensacola “listening tour.” One of the stops on the tour was the ACW Superfund site, where the congressman discussed his views concerning the EPA and contrasted the work done by the agency with that of local and state agencies where Brownfield sites are concerned.
In a statement the next afternoon, Gaetz attributed the timing of the EPA meeting to his visit to the site, as well as his recent legislative proposal in congress to abolish the agency.
“If my visit to the ACW site is indeed what prompted the unexpected call to action on the part of the EPA, I am certainly grateful that I was able to highlight the need for attention to this long forgotten blight in our community,” Gaetz said in the statement. “Regardless of the catalyst, it’s about time that some kind of forward movement take place on this problem. However, I am appalled that it takes the threat of abolishing the agency and a visit from a Congressman to the site for the EPA to do its job, and this is precisely the type of incompetence that motivated me to file the bill in February.”
EPA Region 4 Remedial Project Manager Pete Thorpe, however, said such claims are baseless. He said the remediation process for the ACW site was completely detached from the congressman.
“I didn’t even know he was going to be there,” Thorpe told SANDSpaper Monday morning (April 24). “I don’t know anything about this guy.”
The EPA official said that the public meeting was originally scheduled for April 20, the same day as Gaetz’s visit to the site, but had been pushed back a week. He said the six-day public notice window — which the congressman has questioned — was normal.
Thorpe said the planning process leading up to the local remediation meeting had been in the works for a while.
“It’s been ongoing many, many months,” he said.
Thorpe, who will be attending the Pensacola meeting, said that the agency plans to offer an “overview of the remedies we’re going to use to remediate the site.” While the agency has yet to select the exact arsenal of remedies to be used, the official said it will present its preferred methods, the ones it’s deeming “most efficient” and “most effective.”
To learn more about the EPA’s public meeting April 26, read “EPA to Discuss Superfund Site Cleanup Plan.”
The following is the complete statement from Rep. Matt Gaetz:
On April 20 th I held my 3 rd Open Gaetz Day since taking office in January, in the city of Pensacola. As many know, after less than 2 months being in office, I filed a bill in the United States Congress to eliminate the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since then, my office has received many calls both in support of and in opposition to this bill. I believe that a healthy democracy should include open and public discussion between the public and elected officials; and as Northwest Florida’s Congressman, I truly feel it is my duty to investigate and weigh all sides to every issue. Due to the frequent discussion regarding the EPA and Superfund Sites, when planning the Pensacola Open Gaetz Day for April, I decided to focus a portion of my day visiting a Superfund Site and a Brownfield Site in our very own backyard.
My first stop was at ACW, a Superfund Site at 701 S. J Street, in Pensacola. The EPA is the site lead on this area and it was placed on the National Priorities List on December 20, 1982. The ACW site, aka Pensacola Pit, is an “abandoned 18-acre site located in a moderately dense commercial/residential are of Pensacola. Past field and laboratory testing have shown contamination of soils, surface water, sediments, and groundwater. Contaminated soils are a potential health threat to the local residents through direct contact; contaminated groundwater is a potential health threat to local residents using private irrigation wells; and Pensacola Bay is threatened by potential discharge of contaminated groundwater.”
This Site has been on the Superfund list for 34 years and the only thing the EPA has managed to complete on the project is putting up a fence around it. After 34 years of unsuccessful completion, one can imagine that I was more than a little surprised to learn that 9 minutes before I was scheduled to visit this EPA supervised site, the EPA released a statement with its intentions to hold a “Proposed Plan Meeting for the public” to discuss the remedies they are proposing to use to remediate ACW.
In addition to the interesting timing of the EPA’s statement, I would like to point out that the EPA has completed zero phases of cleanup on this site after 34 years, yet is giving the public exactly SIX DAYS notice of the “Proposed Plan Meeting for the public” (scheduled for April 26, 2017); also the EPA has been “generous” enough to run a “comment period” for about 1 month.
If my visit to the ACW site is indeed what prompted the unexpected call to action on the part of the EPA, I am certainly grateful that I was able to highlight the need for attention to this long forgotten blight in our community. Regardless of the catalyst, it’s about time that some kind of forward movement take place on this problem. However, I am appalled that it takes the threat of abolishing the agency and a visit from a Congressman to the site for the EPA to do its job, and this is precisely the type of incompetence that motivated me to file the bill in February.
One of the purposes of my “environmental listening tour” on April 20 th was to bring attention to the disparity between the failure of Superfund Sites (managed by the EPA) and the success of Brownfield Sites (managed by States and local governments). Immediately following my visit to the Superfund Site (left photo), I visited Nick’s Boathouse Restaurant (right photo), which is one of many thriving commercial developments that sits on a site near Main Street Pensacola that was designated as a Brownfield Site by the City of Pensacola in 2006.
I believe the above photographs adequately portray the stark contrast between the management and success of the two different sites. Where once a contaminated site stood, now a bustling waterfront development exists and provides jobs to countless members of the community in Pensacola.
In closing, I would like to say that I was happy to hear from all of the constituents that came out to participate in my Environmental Listening Tour yesterday; I truly appreciate the care and concern of the citizens here in Pensacola and their willingness to engage in lively discussion on matters such as these. I hope that my visit to the Superfund actually results in some positive action and that the EPA’s coinciding statement was not just a last minute attempt to save face; for the sake of our environment and for the health, safety, and economic growth of the entire Pensacola community.