County soft on company crime ... White Construction may be let off hook for illegal dumping
White Construction Company, the firm charged with violations of county dumping codes, is doing its level best to keep from having to clean up the site. The Alachua County Codes Enforcement Board voted to fine White $50 per day if the waste remained at the site after 30 days. This action came in October, after the company was given a deadline of September 1, which was then extended to September 15, to remove the debris (see October 1995 Iguana). The Board could have fined White $250 per day, but evidently felt that the threat of a mere pittance of a fine along with an extra 30 days would be sufficient to spur the company to action. The board was correct: White has taken the action of applying for a permit to continue "storing" the waste at the site.
White Construction has applied for a temporary use permit which would allow it to keep the materials at the site until they can be used in future construction projects. The company says that all of the material can be used within two years. This brings to mind these questions:
1. Why didn't White apply for a permit in the first place?
2. How will the county ensure that no more waste is brought to the site?
3. Considering that the waste has been on the site since at least July (some appears to have been there much longer), by the time a permit is issued, will it be retroactive to the time of the initial discovery?
4. Is White's estimate of two years based on actual projects it will be working on, or are they just hoping to get enough contracts in that time frame to use all the debris?
County environmental staff have recommended that the request be denied based on the potential for groundwater contamination as well as the company's track record in this area. On October 20, the Department of Environmental Protection's Gainesville office sent a letter to White requiring groundwater testing and a detailed inventory of materials on the property. The company has until mid-November to submit an assessment including the testing results.
The Alachua County Planning Commission will consider the permit request at its November 15 meeting and make a recommendation to the County Commission. The Commission will consider the request in December. Meanwhile, the debris continues to sit at the site, apparently because White believes it will be granted a permit to keep it there. Will the county levy fines during the time that the permit is under consideration? If not, then White will have been given nearly three months to remove the waste and will undoubtedly ask for a further extension if the permit is denied. Richard Jones, attorney for White, told the Gainesville Sun that he was surprised and disappointed at the staff recommendation. Arthur Saarinen, president of the Haile Community Asssociation (HCA), isn't the least bit surprised or disappointed. What he and HCA members are concerned about is the low fine imposed by the county on top of the extensions of time given to White to comply, as well as the potential for contamination of groundwater. Suppose the county issues a permit and two years down the road it is discovered that there is contamination of groundwater or nearby wells? Can the county be held liable along with White?
On top of all this comes the word that the company may also be violating laws controlling storage of waste oil. On November 2, 14 drums, possibly containing waste oil, were discovered at the site, and White Construction claims it didn't even know the drums were there. White is having the drums tested to determine their contents. The possible fine is $150 per violation, according to the County Environmental Protection Department. If White didn't know about the drums, what else may lie on or beneath the site that White is unaware of?
White Construction claims that its request for a permit is "in the public interest because it allows recycling of a large amount of material..." Why the sudden concern about the public interest? Why didn't White attempt to recycle the recyclables and properly dispose of the rest before it ended up with a site full of who knows what? Because it was cheaper to just dump the stuff. Period.