Hard-fought Clean Air ordinance narrowly defeated...
Battle continues against tire-burning cement plant
November/December 1998

After the fall victories of County Commissioners-elect Dave Newport and Robert Hutchinsonl, and given overwhelming local opposition to Florida Rock's new cement plant, the Clean Air Ordinance seemed like an easy winner. So many people were surprised that the Clean Air Ordinance was defeated on November 3. But not County Commissioner Penny Wheat. She told the Gainesville Sun that she was surprised the vote was so close because of the large sums Florida Rock spent "creating a message of fear and hammering it home over and over and over again. It's amazing to see the number of people who saw through all the hot air." The vote was 51% to 49%--with a 1,068 vote-margin against the ordinance.

The ordinance would have required Florida Rock, which is building a $100 million cement plant near Newberry, to clean up its emissions or move elsewhere. The plant is scheduled to start operations in August 1999.

Money was clearly an extraordinary factor in the defeat of the Clean Air Ordinance. When the total contributions were added up, the anti-Clean Air Political Action Committee, called "We Care 4 Air 2" raised $245,000 while the pro-Clean Air forces raised $60,000. Florida Rock contributed 91% of the money--$223,339--collected by the anti-clean air ordinance PAC. The other $22,000 came mostly from out of the county. Only 1.3% of the contributions to the anti-clean air PAC were from inside Alachua County, while all the contributions to the Clean Air Ordinance Committee came from Alachua County denizens.

Clean Air Campaign coordinating committee member Ed Shrewd reflected later: "What hurt the campaign was lack of funds. We needed to raise money before getting the message out, while Florida Rock's ads ran unopposed for 3 or 4 weeks. We were non-professionals donating our time going up against the professionally-run campaign working full time.

"Florida Rock spent the money in a calculated campaign: running the false GRU anti-ordinance ad, the 1 hour in a trailer ad--a total mischaracterization--and all the other ads. They created enough doubt in peoples minds that people rejected it..." Shrewd said.

In a brazen twist, the Florida-Rock funded PAC, tried to out-environmental the environmentalists, saying that people should vote against the ordinance because it "Won't stop 95% of our air pollution." You can't even parody that--a plant which is going to burn 4,000 tires a day tries to talk about how it wants more pollutants covered by a local ordinance? Please. Is Florida Rock going to put another couple of hundred grand into getting a comprehensive ordinance that covers all local pollutants? Don't hold your breath.

Because of the Florida Rock PAC's presentation of the ordinance, many who voted against the ordinance may well be strong supporters of pollution controls. County Commissioner-elect Dave Newport commented after the vote that forty-nine percent of the voters want a clean air ordinance and "51% want a better ordinance... I hear them loud and clear."

It is possible to win against money and lies, volunteer coordinator for the Clean Air Ordinance Committee Scott Camil reminded us after the vote. "[County Commissioner-elect] Dave Newport was outspent 3 to 1 and had lots of lies told about him, but he won."

The fear of a lawsuit by Florida Rock also tied the hands of organizers who had to tread lightly around the specifics of what a tire-burning cement plant will do to our air quality (not to mention water quality) because specific criticisms could open the campaign up to SLAPP suits--(Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) where corporations throw their weight around by accusing citizens groups of unfairly maligning them. The charge that the clean air ordinance was designed to deal with a specific facility, namely the cement plant, also may have opened the law up to challenges later.

Shrewd concluded: "The clean air ordinance would have been a struggle should it have passed, with court battles and suits, etc. Now we can start new, with a new Commission, and work towards a new ordinance... keep that goal of clean air and a cement plant that doesn't pollute.

With the victories of Newport and Hutch, Shrewd said, "We've changed the political atmosphere in Alachua County. We now have a County government that's going to be fighting for us, not just catering to developer interests."

A week after the vote, Scott Camil said, "The most important thing to come out of the fight over the cement plant and the clean air ordinance was the contacts and ties developed between the activist community and the more establishment non-political people.

"I've met good hard-working people who hadn't been involved much before in campaigns or politics; not because they were selfish, but because they were distracted with everyday responsibilities, or feeling overloaded or focussed someplace else. This campaign woke up a lot of good people who hadn't understood the importance of being involved in doing their responsibility in a democracy. A lot of these people will stay involved now, and there's a lot more solid people to call on when the next campaign comes along.

"Florida Rock has to understand that this is not over. We live here, we've got time to get them to do right. They'll have to battle us everyday, and now they have a broader group of people opposed to them, not just a few neighbors."

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