By: Tony McCray
(PNS)On Monday, August 29th, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson toured the Federal Courthouse with Judge Rodgers viewing its environmental problems of mold and mildew first hand. He then met with Mayor Ashton Hayward privately as the Mayor invited the Senator out onto his office balcony the view the changing landscape of downtown, Maritime Park, and the former site of the sewerage treatment plant (now owned by developer Quint Studer). Following his visits with Judge Rodgers and Mayor Hayward, Senator Nelson met with the Mayor, County Commissioner Lumon May, City Councilman Wu, City Councilman Wingate other local elected officials to discuss community issues at the Pensacola City Hall. Members of the press were invited to attend the meeting, which included the Pensacola Voice Newspaper.
Mayor Hayward began the meeting thanking Senator Nelson for his help as a friend to the City of Pensacola through the hurricanes, and the oil spill. The Senator responded with comments about the views from the Mayor’s balcony of downtown, Maritime Park, and the views going westward down Main Street. Senator Nelson spoke of how he remembered coming to Pensacola right after Hurricane Ivan and viewing all of the damage and how foul the smell was in the air right after the storm. He stated, “I looked out at Maritime Park, I looked over at Downtown at all of these buildings going up, and I looked to the west at the former Sewerage Plant site. Today the Mayor is showing me this piece of land as a future mixed-use development!” He acknowledged the new owner of the site, Quint Studer, as they met briefly with the Mayor when he first entered the conference room.
The Senator displayed his knowledge of past Pensacola trials and tribulations when he brought up Mount Dioxin and how the neighborhood was hurt by the contamination. Senator Nelson went on to share his disgust about the effort out of Washington D.C. politics to hold up the renovations and decontamination of the water and mold-damaged federal courthouse in downtown Pensacola. The rehab cost is estimated at $31 million. The General Services Administration will oversee the project.
Nelson’s stop by the federal courthouse in downtown Pensacola to meet with Judge Casey Rodgers depicted his commitment to advocate for the building’s rehab.
In March 2015, Rodgers sent a letter to the GSA saying the courthouse had been infested with mold for 20 years without any permanent remediation. She also said more than half of the building’s employees had reported health problems consistent with mold exposure. The building was completed in 1997, but occupancy was delayed until spring of 1998 because of mold and water intrusion problems. Employees reported problems again in 1999, 2003, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Rodgers credits Nelson with getting the GSA’s attention about the severity of the issue. “If it hadn’t been for Sen. Nelson, our court and other agency employees would still be in that courthouse,” Rodgers said. “GSA was not going to move us out.”
City Councilman Spencer spoke to the Senator about innovative approaches for repairing the inner-city stormwater infrastructure to deal with the population moving back to the urban core.
County Commissioner Lumon May thanked the Senator for his help with the environmental crisis in the Wedgewood Community and stated how supportive the Senator’s staff has been throughout the time that the issue was being addressed. There were also questions about the BP Oil Spill funding being accessed by the minority companies, non-profits, and communities by the representative of the Pensacola Voice. During the dialogue the Voice reporter shared, with the Senator, that concerns for fair distribution of the funds to minorities were being documented by the paper as the Voice plans its expansion down the Florida panhandle to Panama City, Port St. Joe, and Apalachicola.