Newport proposal passes, County Commission stands up to Florida Rock
Joe Courter
September 1999

That was the deal that wasn't. After five months of wrangling by lawyers from Florida Rock, lawyers from the City of Newberry, and lawyers from Alachua County, a deal was supposed to go down on Monday evening September 13th. But the 'final offer' by Florida--which many hardworking proponents of clean air and water saw as a sell out of the county's rights to hold Florida Rock accountable--turned out to be a dead deal on arrival to County Commission chambers. It was not even debated in its original form.

Commissioner Robert Hutchinson, in what may have been a conciliatory move to not seem the bad guy who launched the whole compromise strategy, introduced a motion to debate Commissioner Dave Newport's substitute proposal, which was then further amended. Newport had made 51 changes to the 14-page Florida Rock agreement, returning some rights and sovereignty to the county. His proposal would force Florida Rock to operate a cement plant that would pollute less.

Florida Rock representatives were not happy with this, saying they hadn't come to debate anything but the September 10th trilateral agreement they'd just hashed out with Newberry and Alachua County, saying "This is our final offer-you take it or we'll see you in court." When the process of looking at When the debate on Newport's substitute proposal went forward, in fact, the representatives from Florida Rock left the room.

When discussion commenced, all but one person spoke in favor of Newport's proposal. Amendments were offered to strengthen it. Attorney Joe Little stated that if Florida Rock could argue that hazardous waste, or solvent- or petroleum-contaminated soil could not be "burned as fuel" the agreement could be amended to "not burned at all." That passed.

Scott Camil brought up the proposed "probable cause and dispute resolution panel," a construct in which Florida Rock, the City of Newberry, and Alachua County would each appoint one member, and then those three would unanimously appoint a fourth and fifth member. These five experts would be the only recourse for complaints. Camil pointed out that this panel could be blocked by Florida Rock and Newberry stalling forever on agreement to a fourth and fifth member. This panel idea was done away with after discussion, and the county's and citizens right to pursue grievances through legal channels was reasserted.

That the whole proposal hammered out by the lawyers relied in many instances on Florida Rock's "best good faith effort." This reminded the audience and the commission of all the bad faith Florida Rock has shown through the process-agreeing to certain emissions figures and then changing them, distorting the truth about the clean air ordinance during the ordinance campaign. The question was raised, how much can Alachua County citizens rely on Florida Rock's good faith?

When the time came for voting on the amended proposal, Hutchinson, the maker of the motion, voted yes. Then Newport, who designed the proposal, voted yes. Commissioner Penny Wheat was next and voted yes--then Commissioners Clemons and Chestnut followed with nays. By a three-two vote the amended proposal goes back to Florida Rock for their signature, or for a date in court or what may end up being many days in court. Stay tuned.

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