The Escambia County Commission, at their August 21st board meeting, voted unanimously for the enactment of a moratorium on permitting any expansions or repermitting expansions of borrows pits or construction and debris landfills in the Wedgewood community. This vote was an historic victory for the Wedgewood protest movement that continues to fight for some type of immediate action to be taken in addition to the moratorium. Public hearings were held in July and this month to receive comments on the need for the moratorium.
Commission Chairman Lumon May led the support for his District 3 constituents of the Wedgewood housing subdivision. Commissioner Steven Barry and Commissioner Grover Robinson echoed their support prior to the actual vote. Commissioner Gene Valentino questioned county staff on the environmental monitoring data and that of the Department of Environmental Protection. Valentino also stated that he did not appreciate being blamed for the health conditions and deaths of Wedgewood residents because of his seat on the commission. Commissioner Wilson Robertson, in his comments, seemed to be prepared to vote against the moratorium. However, following his comments to the Wedgewood residents that they should understand that the potential outcome of the moratorium may not result in any pits being shut down, he also voted in favor of the moratorium. Commissioner May countered that if the owners of these facilities do not abide by the possible new regulations they will be shut down.
There was wide spread support voiced for the moratorium prior to the commission’s vote. The Chairman of the Florida Conference of the NAACP’s Environmental Climate Justice Committee, Lewis Jennings from Ft. Walton Beach, was present and supported a presentation by a local NAACP member of the statewide group to voice support for the moratorium. Additionally, Dr. Beverly Wright, the Executive Director of the Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, also voiced her support for the moratorium.
Judy Cook, the Wedgewood protest chairwoman, remains committed to legal action. Former Escambia Judge Ken Williams and other lawyers continue to meet with residents exploring their legal options. Judy Cook stated that it is her goal to see her community achieve relief from the unjust environmental and detrimental health conditions brought upon them by the pits and landfills.
When she spoke at the June 26th county commission meeting, she shared the strategy of taking the battle against the environmental contamination to Tallahassee, and if necessary to Washington D.C. She has previously alleged that the Wedgewood community has suffered through 58 funerals since February 2014 with cancer related deaths numbered at 31. Cook added to her comments that on her street every house has somebody sick!