Escambia to vote to clean up Saufley Landfill

Written by

Jamie Page, Pensacola News Journal

Escambia County commissioners tonight will vote on a contract to cleanup and close the abandoned Saufley Field Landfill.

Panhandle Grading & Paving Inc. is the low bidder set to get the $5,996,026 contract. However, the bids in general came in considerably higher than the county expected, so the project will not be able to reduce the size of the mound of waste quite as low as initially anticipated, said County Administrator Randy Oliver.

On that note, there could be a sudden twist to this issue at tonight’s meeting.

As proposed, the project will involve building a stormwater holding pond, drainage, installing a proper cap on the mound, and removing a portion of the 130-foot mound, which sits on the edge of a residential neighborhood long plagued by the contamination the landfill has caused.

However, for the roughly $6 million the county is set to spend on the project, it would reduce the mound’s height to 111.5 feet on the front elevation, and 126 feet on its rear, said County Engineer Joy Blackmon.

At this morning’s agenda review meeting, Commissioner Grover Robinson IV said the majority of the money is going to be spent on shaving down the height of the mound.

He feels that if the project will only achieve a reduction of the mound by about four feet on one end, and the highest part of the mound would still remain at 126 feet, then he feels it’s not worth the additional money to try and reduce its size. He would rather see the mound capped off as it stands, which would avoid stirring up toxic materials inside the mound that have caused residents health problems.

“For the amount of material we are able to take down at $6 million, for a couple of extra feet to come down, which is not going to really be that noticeable one way or another, I think we could spend that $4 million more wisely,” Robinson said.

“You could do work in places where we are trying to get roadwork done. At the end of the day, all we are going to do is throw a bunch of money down a hole to go from 130 to 126 feet. We won’t get a whole lot for our money that way. I support capping it where it stands.”

Commissioner Wilson Robertson, whose district includes Saufley Landfill, has been fighting to get the site cleaned up, capped and properly closed since he took office. He took issue with Robinson’s statements.

He said residents’ suffering of health effects from the landfill, coupled with the federal government’s intentions of turning the neighboring Saufley air space into a high-tech commerce park, are reasons enough to support the $6 million contract award tonight.

“We have been fighting this battle for years and I don’t know why this has to come up every time Saufley Landfill is mentioned,” Robertson said. “The neighbors out there deserve this. If it was in your neighborhood I think you would want it to be aesthetically suitable. I plead with you let’s please not do that (referring to Robinson’s proposal).”

Robinson asked Blackmon to prepare some figures for tonight’s meeting so commissioners will know how much of the project will go toward waste removal alone so they can determine whether it’s worth the additional money.

Commissioner Kevin White also asked for the same figures.

Commissioner Gene Valentino said he recently talked to a high-ranking Navy official who stressed to him that the mound needed to be reduced as much as possible for the sake of the military’s plans for the air field there. Valentino defended Robertson’s points.

“We are obligated to do something not only for economic development but for our military,” Valentino said.

Grover Robinson responded that “if you want to influence economic development, we can take that other $3 or 4 million and spend it differently. It is our job to evaluate these things to ensure they are the best value for the citizens.”

Robertson said he thought Robinson was mistaken about the savings that could be achieved by capping it. He thought that most of the money would be spent on the drainage, pond, cap and other elements and that it would not save much by abandoning the reduction of the mound.

Judy Jones, who lives near the landfill, is admittedly “on the fence” about this issue.

“Whatever they decide should be in the best interest of the area citizens,” Jones said. “It is still a potential danger to everybody who lives there. That’s why I am on the fence. We know what we have right now. Do we open it up, which could create more health issues, or do we leave it alone and cap it?

“I am sure we would all like to see the whole thing gone and all of the toxic stuff disposed of properly, but since that is not going to happen I guess we have to go with the lesser of the two evils. I just hate that they are reneging on their promise.”

 

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