Washington, DC -- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) deleted counts in an enforcement order its staff had prepared for the Big Wheel Construction & Debris Facility in Bay County, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In ignoring the specific findings of prior inspections, the agency violated its own procedures and continued a pattern of complete non-enforcement at the troubled site.
DEP inspection reports and memoranda noted groundwater contamination, asbestos violations and improper waste disposal practices. All of these items were absent from a December 18, 2002 Warning letter sent by DEP to the operators of the Big Wheel construction and demolition operation located outside Panama City.
In a letter to the editor published on June 13 in the Panama City News Herald, DEP Northwest District Director Mary Jean Yon insisted that the agency complied with the procedures "detailed in our Compliance and Enforcement Manual." But an examination of the Big Wheel case file by PEER revealed several deviations from agency protocol – all forgiving violations found by agency inspectors. In addition, the DEP supervisor who oversaw the inspections was abruptly removed.
"Something smells at the Big Wheel dump other than the waste stream," stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for DEP. Florida PEER has earlier filed complaints about groundwater contamination, illegal asbestos disposal and improper permitting of the operation. "For DEP to contend that this is business as usual suggests that something is deeply amiss about the way the agency does business."
Arguably, the most serious concern overlooked by the agency was aluminum contamination of the groundwater. Other violations that disappeared from the DEP filings also included acceptance of asbestos, tires and other materials that Big Wheel C& D was not authorized to handle.
"Contrary to public assertions from DEP managers, there is nothing in the agency files documenting that theses problems were completely corrected by the operator," added Phillips. "Either the agency is keeping secret files in violation of the Sunshine Act or Ms. Yon and other DEP officials are not telling the truth about what is happening out there."
View summary of the DEP enforcement file on water contamination at Big Wheel