Alachua Voter Guide

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Take Action on Koppers Superfund: Demand Resignation of Attorney

March 14, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates

The federal government comment period about a consent decree to allow Beazer, Inc., to get away with murder at the Koppers Superfund site in the Stephen Foster neighborhood in Gainesville ends today, Friday, March 15, not with a bang but a whimper.

But there still is something candidates for Mayor can do to show that they really are aware of what residents near the contaminated site want. They can notify high-priced attorney Bill Pence and his law firm that their services no longer would be needed if the candidate speaking at the moment was elected, he, being everyone including the incumbent.  Why would each of them say such a thing? Mr. Pence seems to pose a danger to women, children, and anything else living too near the Koppers’ Superfund Site.

The City Commission seemed to understand last week that the top priority for residents who have been imprisoned in the Koppers’ Superfund area because they cannot sell their homes is purchase of their properties.  The elected City officials asked the federal government to consider purchase of the homes of some of the residents.   However Bill Pence says that is not going to happen.  Hey.  Is Gainesville really paying this man and his law firm for such arrogance?

Working So Hard on the Consent Degree

The Gainesville Sun last week mentioned Pence for the first time in the 15-20 years that he and his law firm have been advising the City about environmental matters, according to the archives maintained by the only daily in town. Pence is one of those high-priced lawyers from other cities in Florida who are rewarded by the Office of the City Attorney to take on the burden that the million dollar a year in attorney salaries public law firm cannot handle. Pence is called upon to advise the Office of the City Attorney on such matters as the 30-year-old contamination of the Stephen Foster neighborhood. Pence occasionally also advises City officials.

What was the Pence advice? The Sun reported: “Bill Pence, an outside attorney who the city of Gainesville contracts with as environmental counsel, said the permanent relocation of residents was ‘not going to happen’ and that the EPA made that decision when the cleanup plan was approved in 2011. Pence also said if Beazer East purchases off-site properties, the company would be under no legal requirement to clean the contamination off them.”

What Are We Talking About Here?

“The Cabot/Koppers Superfund site at N Main St and NE 23rd Ave, Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida covers 140 acres bridging two properties. It is comprised of two sites; the Koppers portion covering 90 acres on the western side, and the Cabot Carbon portion covering 50 acres on the eastern side.

“A wood treating operation on the Koppers portion of the site, which ceased operations in late 2009, had been active since 1916. Cabot Carbon formerly operated a charcoal production operation on the Cabot Carbon portion from 1911 to 1955. The Northside Shopping Center was built on a portion of the former Cabot facility, which was historically used to distill pine oil and pine tar from pine trees. As a result, soil and groundwater data from the locations beneath the building or nearby locations indicate the presence of relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds,” according to a sampling investigation report published on Oct. 2, 2012, after a soil sampling investigation at the City of Gainesville’s Municipal Storage Yard (MSY) and adjacent areas in Gainesville, FL .

Two “potentially responsible parties (PRPs) are funding the site cleanup. Beazer East, Inc. is the PRP for the Koppers portion of the site. Cabot Corporation is the PRP for the Cabot Carbon portion,” notes the report.

A Farthing for Your Thoughts, Mr. Pence

An e-mail obtained in response to a public records request reveals that Mr. Pence has been paid by Gainesville at least since 1996, when the City reached an agreement on the clean-up of the contamination of the Cabot Carbon site. That was accomplished without anyone going to court.

If you actually have to go to court, of course, Mr. Pence is not the man you would need. He apparently is only admitted to practice really at the trial level, in the Florida state courts and the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Florida. He apparently is not admitted in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Florida, where Gainesville is located, or in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

But Mr. Pence does not have to go to court to prove his worth, to the Office of the City Attorney. Here is what Mr. Pence can do and has done for Gainesville at the low, low price of $360 an hour. This summer, Mr. Pence and his law firm were actively involved in the legal effort to protect City employees from harm near the Koppers site. Without attracting much attention, the City initiated several “dust avoidance practices for onsite workers” based on a significantly high concentration of dioxin discovered in June 2012, by the Beazer East’s consultant on the Material Storage Yard (MSY) site. What could be done for the workers, if not the residents? “Minimize dust-Water truck if necessary.” “If dusty, use dusts masks;” put up “Do Not Disturb” signs near the sampled sites. The contamination was said to have reached dangerous dioxin levels at the City of Gainesville, Public Workers Center, Material Storage Yard.

From the safety of his office at the Sun Trust Center, far, far away in Orlando, Florida, Pence went right to work. On July 12, 2012, Pence worked 0.80 billable hours (about 48 minutes) to “review memorandum from (future City Attorney) Nicolle Shalley results of dioxin testing on City Public Workers Center parcel and strategy for responding to the presence of dioxins on the site; confer with Nicolle Shalley regarding same.”

One Tax Dollar for You, One Tax Dollar….

Pence worked nearly twice as long less than a week later to “Review information provided employees at City operations yard regarding the discovery of dioxins in onsite soils; prepare for and participate in conference call with Stu Pearson (Koppers’ on-site manager for Gainesville) and Nicolle Shalley regarding same; review EPA’s 104(e) information Request regarding Cabot site; confer with Stu Pearson regarding same.”

Pence put in a hard 90 minutes on July 27 to “Prepare for and participate in conference call with Stu Pearson, (and others), regarding completing site specific risk assessment to evaluate potential risk to City employees working at Public Workers Center adjacent to the Koppers site,” and then another 24 minutes or so on July 30 to “Review correspondence from Stu Pearson regarding revised exposure scenario for on-site City employees; begin review of surface water discharge data reported from Koppers site.” Pence also billed for 24 minutes in that month to “Review results of additional dioxin sampling performed in settling ponds and storm water pipe sediments on the City’s operational parcel;” and Pence  ” conferred with “Stu Pearson regarding same.” For that arduous effort, Baker & Hostetler billed the City for $1,728, for July 2012. Oops. We forgot. There was a cost of an additional $180.

But we should consider ourselves fortunate, in light of past charges, and the other commitments the Office of City Attorney has made to Bill Pence. The Office of the City Attorney retained him for special consultation services for review of environmental liability issues related to the City’s proposed purchase of Smokey Bear Park in 2010.  Mr. Pence gave Gainesville his reduced price rate of only $360 an hour for that work.  What is the problem with Smokey Bear Park?

Did You Know Smokey the Bear Park Is Contaminated?

By March of 2011, it was learned that “the city of Gainesville has not yet finalized an estimated $490,000 purchase of Smokey Bear Park from the state of Florida. Concerns over soil contamination from the underground fuel storage tanks on site when the Florida Division of Forestry used the northeast Gainesville property have slowed the purchase, said Gainesville Parks Recreation & Cultural Affairs Director Steve Phillips.”

By June of 2011, the Sun reported: “The city’s land purchasing efforts with Wild Spaces & Public Places have yet to produce significant results. Plans to purchase Smokey Bear Park from the state are held up for the time being because of soil contamination from underground fuel storage tanks that were on site when the Florida Division of Forestry used the property. Phillips said the city continues to look for a piece of conservation property to purchase with $2.2 million set aside for that purpose.” That’s the last known fact about old Smokey Bear Park.

What else has Mr. Pence done for us lately? Well, in 2011, by March concerning the consent decree for the Koppers Superfund site primarily, Baker & Hostletler was billing $13,656.15. In April, Marion Radson okayed another $2,325.00. For May, Mr. Pence charged only for 84 minutes of time for a telephone conference, a review of correspondence, and correspondence to the City Attorney about what he had learned. Mr. Pence also conferred with several others; charges were limited to $462.00. Mr. Pence capped off May and June with a half-an-hour spent to “Review County Chairman’s correspondence to President Obama regarding implementation of remedy at Kopper site: prepare correspondence to Marion Radson regarding same.” Total; Only $528.00.

But if something actually happens at the Kopper Superfund site, legal fees might just skyrocket, if Mr. Pence has anything to say about it.  Of course, it would have to be approved by the Office of the City Attorney.  Yeah.  Right.

Hey, hey. Ho. Ho. Bill Pence, you’ve got to go.

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