Wedgewood residents walked out of the Thursday July 10th Escambia County Commission meeting with shouts of protest and disgust after commissioners voted 3-2 to allow the expansion of the Short Leaf borrow pit over the opposition of Commission Chairman Lumon May of District 3 and District 5 Commissioner Steven Barry. Commissioners Gene Valentino, Grover Robinson, and Wilson Robertson voted in favor of allowing the Short Leaf pit to expand.
While the Wedgewood community leaders were not in the mood for detailed explanations, the Short Leaf owners pitched a plan to only remove clay from the site in the short term and convert to an actual landfill years in the future. Commissioner Grover Robinson even moved to explain the decision he made to approve the expansion by describing the difference between the negative impact of the pits and landfills in the Wedgewood neighborhood to the borrow pits, which are exploited ONLY for extraction of minerals and clay.
However, those plans and explanations did not impress the Wedgewood residents as they came to this meeting to once again persuade the commission to vote against the expansion of the Short Leaf borrow pit and move forward with a six-month moratorium on the permitting or re-permitting of pits and landfills. Thus, while the 3-2 vote was viewed as a “slap in the face” to the protesters, the commission did vote unanimously to begin the process of enacting a moratorium on permitting of the borrow pits or construction debris landfills. This vote was an historic victory for the Wedgewood protest movement for some type of immediate action to be taken. Public hearings will be held later this month and in August to receive comments on the controversial management of the County environmental regulations.
Judy Cook, the Wedgewood protest chairwoman, remains committed to carry out her goal to see her community achieve relief from the unjust environmental and detrimental health conditions. When she spoke at the June 26th meeting, she shared the strategy of taking the battle against the environmental contamination to Tallahassee, and if necessary to Washington D.C. Her description of the health impacts continue to grab attention when she alleges that the Wedgewood community has suffered through 58 funerals since February 2014 with cancer related deaths numbered at 31. “On my street, Pinestead Road, every house has somebody sick!”
Following the vote to allow Short Leaf to expand and the vote to begin the moratorium process the Pensacola Voice interviewed Commissioner May who stated, “Well, if we have regulations on the books why have we not had all the pit and landfills go through the correct approval process?” May has often said in public that the environmental and health problems in Wedgewood must be resolved while he is in office. Wedgewood residents echo the commissioner’s goal when they say that the pits should be closed as the ultimate move to resolve their health and environmental concerns.