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Despite arsenic levels, county considered park

Published April 9, 2006

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Is the neighborhood contaminated?

BROOKSVILLE - Three years ago, the Hernando County Commission said it had good news for neighbors of its former fleet maintenance compound in South Brooksville. The commission agreed to consider building a park at the site.

Residents deserved it, said public works director Charles Mixson.

"They have been very good to us over the years, and we should do something good for them."

But the county had no intention of changing the zoning to allow a park, according to notes of a closed-door meeting last August. The Board of County Commissioners had "responded in a politically correct manner" to the community's request for a park, Mixson told state regulators.

Mixson said the county's consultant told him a park was possible, and he believed it. However, the state had been telling the county since 1999 that arsenic contamination would bar all but commercial uses for the site.

Throughout the more than 14 years of the cleanup, the county demonstrated little regard for the concerns of South Brooksville residents, whose children played in yards just feet from the site's back fence, said local activist Richard Howell.

A St. Petersburg Times review found:

- Despite the proximity of nearby homes, the county tailored its work to industrial cleanup rules, rather than more stringent residential standards. Not until August, amid public furor over the slow-moving cleanup, did the state insist on the stricter rules.

- The county continued rinsing diesel-lined trucks into the ditch until the state ordered them to stop in 1995.

- In April 2001, the county spilled enough road-striping paint to leave a 1/2-inch thick coat of yellow paint covering 100 feet of the south drainage ditch. The paint's warning label, on file with the county, said "THIS MATERIAL SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A HAZARDOUS WASTE" - yet it took a state inspection to force the county to clean it up three weeks later , according to a receipt from the landfill where the county brought 720 pounds of paint-laden dirt.

- On Feb. 7, 2000, a state inspector noted a bucket of oil left out in the open, workers rinsing road-striping paint into the dirt, and a bright orange liquid in a drain leading to the back ditch, less than 10 feet from neighboring yards. The county was given 14 days to respond.

Nearly a year later - Jan. 18, 2001 - the state told the county it still had not received a response.

The county administrator asked Mixson how this had happened. Mixson checked with his fleet maintenance director and reported back: The county never received the letter.

Actually, the county had received it - just two days after the inspection.

The Times found the letter in the county's files, stamped received Feb. 9, 2000. On it, a member of Mixson's staff had penned this note: "Not relevant to our env. audit. Just file per Charles."

[Last modified April 28, 2006, 11:42:43]

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