© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000
Re: Council deflating air of cooperation, Oct. 13 editorial
Editor: I am directing my response to the citizens of Port Richey. I have no obligation to justify my resignation to the Times, a paper that continually misrepresents and attacks the city of Port Richey and its elected officials.
As I sat waiting to be interrogated at the State Attorney's Office, I began deliberating why I was there and about my last five months as councilman. My position on the council left me open to attacks from the paper, and an inquiry from a state agency pointed in the wrong direction. The realization that any council member much like Mr. Leggiere could become the unjust target of an investigation was sobering at best. Taking pride in my city and working my hardest to make it the best that it could be left me wide open. Mr. Leggiere became a sitting duck because of political backlash by getting too close to many questionable situations. I have no doubt that truth will prevail in the end, but when all is said and done how will the damage to his reputation be repaired, and who will take responsibility for it?
My brief tenure as councilman was at its best tolerable, and at its worse disheartening. The Times was without a doubt biased, fixed on defaming any given member of the council. As a council member, I was lied to and faced with recurrent reversal of facts. I weathered innuendoes, threats of lawsuit and was just plain threatened. The job of a council member is to make sound judgments based on facts and common sense. Those who were nothing but self-servers were interfering with my job.
I knew going into office that I would be confronted with challenges and was ready and willing to accept. However, I was not willing to endanger my reputation and withstand continual abuse from those intent only on selling papers and promoting their own agendas. Not once were any of the strengths I brought to office or the accomplishments made by me or any other council member made a focal point. I was faced with accepting the present conditions or getting out. I chose the latter and regret only that the citizens of Port Richey who have suffered losses because of an undeniably biased press and uncontrollable self-servers.
The city is doing very well and will continue to do well despite the negativity that is so pervasive all around us. Mike Starr is a good example of never-ending articles of negativity. Does anybody know what he really wants?
-- Tom Brown, Port Richey
Editor: I am convinced that Commissioner Steve Simon sincerely believes that settling with Buccaneer Gas was the "responsible" thing to do.
Unfortunately, he and the other three commissioners who defied the will of the residents of Pasco County are dead wrong. The first error in his guest column was the omission of the most important "player" of all: the power companies that buy the gas. They determine which pipelines are actually built, and not FERC, whose certificate is a worthless piece of paper without customers willing to purchase the gas. Pasco County had certain rights as an intervener, which they gave up by signing the settlement. If Pasco commissioners had continued objecting to the project, the power companies would have been more likely to sign with Coastal in Manatee County for a more dependable source of gas. This would have forced Buccaneer to negotiate with Coastal for a combined pipeline away from Pasco County.
Duke Energy had joined Williams because they know they weren't going to get their own pipeline. Pasco could have forced a similar arrangement of a single pipeline in Manatee County where there is no objection from citizens or local officials to trouble schedule-conscious power companies. The combined pipeline was discussed in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), but was dismissed because it could add "up to eight months" of construction time. Buccaneer would have rather paid Coastal for such a delay than to be totally left out.
Commissioner Simon also failed to mention that the so-called FERC document, or DEIS, was actually developed by a private consulting firm paid for by Buccaneer. The purpose of the DEIS is stated on page 1-3, and is to "identify and assess potential impacts on the human environment" and "assess reasonable alternatives to the proposed action that would avoid or minimize adverse effects on the human environment." This pipeline corridor is proposed to go through the heart of the most rapidly growing region on the west coast of Florida, which also happens to be the most prone to sinkholes and is even more unstable due to the relentless pumping of numerous municipal water well fields. The alternate route, which lies to the north, would impact few people, little development and go through stable land. It was dismissed because of sea grass impacts.
Only a group of total incompetents or someone being paid to say what Buccaneer wants them to say would conclude that the route through Pasco accomplishes the purpose of the DEIS.
There is one more "player" that hasn't been mentioned yet. A federal judge would have been another obstacle of Buccaneer and the power companies to contend with, had Pasco commissioners continued the fight. They had the right as an intervener to file a federal suit in the matter. This action alone would have likely driven Buccaneer to deal with Coastal once again, or at the very least, gotten a better deal for all Pasco residents. The county attorney that Commissioner Simon depended upon for legal advice told a group of us at a citizens meeting that a federal suit would cost "millions and millions" of dollars. Two attorneys who actually do this work estimated the actual fight to be under $1000,000.
Yes, commissioner, you should ignore every expert on your staff that gives you inept advice, and in particular, your county attorney.
The most important reason to have voted to continue to oppose the pipelines is that your citizens overwhelmingly pleaded with you to do so. Pasco has never been so unified about an issue, and the commissioners responded by driving a stake through our hearts. You signed a divisive agreement which protects some with better pipe, but apparently ignores other citizens, who must not be as important, with weaker pipe running right next to their homes. Any agreement should have required the same safety features for all residents.
I know that Commissioner Simon was particularly enamored with the opportunity to obtain mitigation land to solve wildlife corridor issues. The problem is that the wrong people are paying for the land, and I don't mean Buccaneer. I mean the citizens of Pasco County. Retired people, young people with families, and children who will be paying a debt they don't owe with constant fear of a 3,000-foot-wide fireball incinerating them at any time without notice. Developers who cause the need for the wildlife corridors should be charged fees to pay for the land, and not innocent Pasco citizens.
One of the people on the FERC panel at the recent Land O'Lakes meeting told us that it was clear to him that the pipeline route deliberately veered north toward Pasco County in an effort to avoid Pinellas and Hillsborough. Pasco commissioners reaffirmed our status as the cowardly county, unwilling to fight when things get tough. The DEIS talks a lot about co-locating within existing corridors. This new corridor will be an inviting call to other wealthy interest to "come on through Pasco." We don't mind being abused. We're used to it. It will continue to be this way until that mythical day when we have commissioners that actually choose to respect the will of their citizens. That, Commissioner Simon, would have been the "responsible" thing to do.
I provided all of this information to every commissioner before their vote. I must conclude that Commissioner Simon doesn't consider me to be one of "many other knowledgeable people" that he consulted with before making his decision. While my knowledge may be debatable, a certainty is that I am an intervener, and the safety and peace of mind of Pasco residents now falls to those of us who have been left to continue the fight. Shame on you, Pasco County commissioners, for stepping aside and depending on us to do your work for you!
My thanks go out to Commissioner Mulieri, who had the courage to stand alone and cast her vote to reflect the voices of her constituents, however irresponsible that vote may seem to Commissioner Simon and the other three commissioners who voted along with him. If the County Commission would always have the will of their citizens in mind when voting on important issues, Pasco would be a much safer, better place to live. Maybe one day people would even begin to avoid Pasco County as being too tough to deal with on projects dangerous to its citizens.
-- Dr. Octavio Blanco, Odessa
Re: Agency: Pipeline plans go too fast, Oct. 13
Editor: This article, which appeared in the Metro section of your paper validates the concerns expressed by many Pasco residents during the discussion on the pipeline. Although much of the testimony at the public hearing was categorized by officials as emotional, the above article includes testimony by experts from the Agency on Bay Management who, like the residents, are critical of the FERC draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). This group argues that the issue has not been scrutinized thoroughly and that many environmental concerns were not addressed.
As I sit on the board listening to issues, I hear, "We must have expert testimony." This leads citizens to believe that nothing they can do can changes things. If only experts are to be heard, the importance of direct citizen participation, which was supported by the ancient Greeks and through time by others such as Thomas Jefferson, will be diminished. I believe citizens who research issues, speak with experts and become knowledgeable on a subject can provide data that officials appointed or elected should take note of.
In the '80s when I was investigating the siting of a medical waste incinerator in Gowers Corner, I was not an expert on medical waste or a scientist. I was just an English teacher who knew how to do research. The citizens of Pasco worked together. Their voices were heard, our research given credence, and the incinerator was stopped.
My hat's off to the citizens who fought the good fight, not with a Nimby mentality, but with information and facts that they gained from reading (like I did) the complete DEIS. It is heartwarming to see that the experts are now supporting them.
-- Pat Mulieri, Ed.D., County Commission Chairman