Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Landfill owners, South Palafox Properties, filed a petition with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to argue its case before an administrative judge in response to the July 31st decision by DEP to revoke their permit for operations. The order issued by FDEP alleged violations of state environmental laws:
- Count #1. Violation of Surface Water Quality
- Count #2. Failure to Implement a Remedial Action Plan
- Count #3. Failure to Provide Adequate Financial Assurance for Facility
- Count #4. Failure to Provide Financial Assurance for Corrective Action
- Count #5. Objectionable Odors
- Count #6. Disposal of Unauthorized Waste
- Count #7. Failure to Remove Unauthorized Waste
- Count #8. Facility is Outside of Permitted Dimension
A source with South Palafox Properties shared with the Pensacola Voice that their petition disagrees with the reasons behind the proposed permit revocation. According to the unnamed source the Rolling Hills C & D Landfill stopped taking debris for a few days, but began operations again once the petition was filed within the mandatory response time of 21 days. Conversations with Wedgewood residents following the filing of the petition brought comments of disappoint because they said that the foul odors had stopped. They now say that the irritating smells have returned!
FDEP alleges that South Palafox Properties which operates the Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Landfill, broke the law by failing to contain objectionable odors, accepting unauthorized waste, allowing the landfill to exceed its permitted dimensions, failing to provide adequate financial assurance, contaminating surface water and failing to implement a remedial action plan to address the contamination as listed in the order issued on July 31st.
It appeared that the Wedgewood community was gaining momentum toward relief from foul odors, mountain high garbage, air, surface water, and ground contamination. The community has convinced the Escambia County Commission to consider a moratorium on the expansion and approval of new landfills and borrow pits and also have begun conversations with Attorney Ken Williams for a possible class action lawsuit. The first public hearing was held on the proposed moratorium and the next hearing will be held on August 21st at the Escambia Commission meeting. Commission Chair Lumon May has directed staff to review local regulations and enforcement methods of the industry. May has complained on the issue of lack of enforcement of environmental regulations saying, “Why have the laws if they are not going to be enforced. He has received support from the other commissioners for stronger enforcement.
The historically black community — bounded on the east by Pensacola Boulevard and to the north by I-10 — is surrounded by a series of landfills and borrow pits. Residents have complained for years of noise and dirt from the trucks that rumble down their roads and tear up the streets, of safety risks from the pits, of rodents and the stench from debris in the landfills and of high rates of cancer and respiratory problems, which many attribute to the industry. However, until recently, those cries had fallen on mostly deaf ears.
The Escambia County Commission, following the lead of Chairman Lumon May, voted last month to place a six-month moratorium on the permitting or re-permitting of any new pits or dumps after weeks of organized protest by neighborhood residents. County staff are in the process of reviewing local regulation and enforcement of the industry, which May has characterized as woefully inadequate. Several commissioners have voiced support for stricter enforcement.
The county’s efforts were bolstered July 22, when State Rep. Mike Hill joined May on a tour of the various dumps and pits in the neighborhood. That day, the Escambia County Department of Health issued a health alert for the area surrounding Wedgewood Community Center and the Rolling Hills Landfill — after monitoring revealed elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide in the air.
Meanwhile, the possibility of civil litigation against the company is also in the air. Retired Circuit Judge Kenneth Williams confirmed earlier this month that he had agreed to provide legal counsel to 200-odd residents in the area — with the possibility of pursuing a class-action lawsuit against several companies with operations in the neighborhood.
Speaking Thursday, May said he was pleased by the state’s decision to take action.
“We want to make sure we’re not doing anything to stop economic development,” he said, “but we also want to make sure everyone plays by the rules. We hope we can provide an opportunity for everyone to have clean soil, clean air and clean water.”
Some inmates who were housed in Escambia County Jail during a natural gas explosion in April have reported receiving medical bills for their treatment, bills that Escambia County has reassured victims it would pay.
“Escambia County is committed to paying the costs for medical care related to any injuries suffered as a result of the explosion at the Central Booking and Detention Facility on April 30th,” a written statement issued by the county on Wednesday afternoon said.
“Any inmate who has been sent a bill to their personal address by a local health provider for the treatment of injuries on April 30/May 1; can and should send those bills to Escambia County.”
According to the statement, the invoices can be delivered by mail or in person to the Escambia County Jail Accounts office, which now is located at the Escambia County Public Safety Building, 6575 North W St.
Escambia County has spent $152,102 on medical treatment provided at area hospitals the night of the explosion, according to county officials.
Two inmates were killed, one corrections officer was paralyzed and roughly 180 people were injured when gas ignited in the facility’s basement. The facility was severely damaged in the explosion, and roughly 500 inmates had to be transported to other detention facilities in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.
Inmates and their families have criticized the county for not providing adequate mental and physical treatment for inmates in the weeks following the explosion.
County Administrator Jack Brown said the jail was not adequately staffed to meet the inmates’ health care needs initially but that providing care has been the county’s No. 1 priority since the explosion.
According to a county spokesperson, there is a standing staff of 55 health professionals distributed among detention facilities throughout the county. Since the blast the night of April 30, existing medical personnel have been supplemented by more than a dozen mental health counselors, two medical doctors, nine nurses and three other medical staff members.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office are investigating the circumstances of the blast. Following an on-site investigation, officials ruled that the explosion was caused by a natural gas release.
Several inmates and corrections officers — including Chris Hankinson, the corrections officer who was paralyzed, and his wife, Shannon, who also worked at the facility — have gone on record saying they the smelled gas in the building well before the explosion.
If it is determined that the jail’s administration showed culpable negligence in failing to respond to the dangers of a suspected gas leak, they could face criminal charges.
A spokesperson for the State Fire Marshal’s Office said there is no estimate of when the investigation would be completed, only that it is “open and ongoing.”