Planning board votes down rezoning at former kiln

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 6/6/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – In 1996, aggregate kiln company Solite closed down. That same year, Christine Robertson’s son died of complications resulting from spina bifida.

Solite, which opened in …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for subscribing.

Single day pass

You also have the option of purchasing 24 hours of access, for $1.00. Click here to purchase a single day pass.

Planning board votes down rezoning at former kiln

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – In 1996, aggregate kiln company Solite closed down. That same year, Christine Robertson’s son died of complications resulting from spina bifida.

Solite, which opened in the 1950s, was nearly impossible to miss while driving through the Lake Asbury area on County Road 209. Billows of dark smoke exploded out of smokestacks that reached high into the sky. Kilns were fired, and fired again, every day. Heavy equipment, machinery trucks, hundreds of workers oversaw multiple roaring furnaces creating noises that struck the ears of those in the area. For 20 years, Solite’s kilns burned sight unseen. Then, one day in the 1970s, without warning or notice, Solite began using hazardous materials to speed up the burn process. While the plant became more efficient and saved money, the new materials were not safer, according to nearby residents and documents from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

For example, one report indicated that, in more than one instance, Solite failed to meet the standards set for companies that wish to use hazardous waste. As a result, they were fined. Beyond that, it’s relatively unknown of what kind of safety standards Solite failed to meet. They might have passed state standards but that didn’t necessarily ease the mind of residents in the area who were breathing in the smoke, swimming in the lake connected to Solite’s runoff and eating the fish from the local creek.

Christine Robertson lived intermittently in the area in the 1970s, often staying at her brother’s house who lived close to the plant in the area where Solite’s potentially-hazardous runoff landed. She swam in the lake, ate the fish and drank the water. Years later, Robertson had a son who was born with spina bifida.

Spina bifida occurs when a neural tube fails to develop or close properly, often resulting in defects on the spinal cord and bones of the spine. Some survive the birth defect while some don’t. Miller’s son lived life bound to a wheelchair, was often in pain, and encountered complications unique to the birth defect until he died in 1996.

Robertson, angry and broken, saddened at the loss of her son, said she knew exactly why this happened: Solite.

“I was heartbroken,” Robertson said June 5 prior to a meeting of the Clay County Planning Commission that was to hear arguments for approving a new development on former Solite property. “Solite was the reason this happened.”

Before the birth of her son, her family had no history of spina bifida. While the defect does not follow a line through a family, genetic factors do play a role. Robertson would go on to have a daughter, Christine Holly, who has had two miscarriages. Again, Robertson’s family had no history with miscarriages.

“I swam in those waters,” Robertson said. “You can’t tell me it’s by chance these things happened. Solite was toxic. Those waters are toxic.”

Solite hasn’t left Robertson’s mind, but has plagued her thoughts with what ifs, and how comes, and when Solite attempted to show its face in Clay County again, over 20 years later, Robertson felt it was her duty to bring attention to Solite and what she believes the company has done to the area and those that call it home.

On June 5, Robertson, Holly and family friend Angela Kline protested outside the Clay County Administration Building prior to the Planning Commission debate, which was met with a standing room only crowd. There, Kline and Holly held signs that said, “Stop Solite,” and, “Just Say No To Toxins.” In between them was Robertson, who was holding a frame filled with pictures of her deceased son.

Planning commissioners heard plans from Stoneridge Farms, a re-branded Solite of sorts, which now seeks to sell 900 acres to a developer that hopes to build a new residential community on the land.

Stoneridge Farms was represented by Susan Fraser, who once served as head of the planning department for the Clay County government. Fraser said once the property was sold, Stoneridge would have the funds it needed to clean up the toxins on the site, something required under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The RCRA requires alleged polluters to cover the costs of closing a plant and cleaning it up using funds the company was required to set aside at its entrée into Clay County.

According to Fraser, Solite would need around $2 million to clean up and that $2 million would come directly from the sale of the 900 acres to the potential buyer, Michael Danhour. Fraser said at the time of the signing, $2 million would immediately be put into escrow. In order for this to happen, Fraser asked that the Planning Commission to increase the density from one home per acre to three homes per acre.

Not only were residents upset that Solite failed to clean up their mess in the 1990s, they didn’t trust that the company would actually clean it up following the sale.

“They didn’t clean it back then, why would they do it now?” Robertson said.

Fraser said, in order for the sale to go through, the involved parties need the density increased, which would increase the number of residents in the area, resulting in further congestion, another worry voiced by area residents.

--as of right now, there is really only one entrance from 209. That entrance is also home to a railroad crossing. It’s this combo of increased congestion, one entrance and the potential roadblock of a train passing through that worries the residents even more.

“Right now, the property is suitable for residential and that’s its best use,” Fraser said. “So, if this allows the cleanup to that standard, the community should be wishing that that’s the standard it’s cleaned up to.”

Like many of Fraser’s comments, she was met with boos and cackling from the audience, which was of course silenced by the gavel of Planning Commission Chairman Joe Anzalone. In contrast, the 14 citizens that spoke against the measure during the Public Hearing were all met with applause and remarks of encouragement, which were also silenced by the gavel. Most of these speakers’ names were present on a petition signed to stop the sale that featured over 100 signatures. Each of these 14 speakers had a different story to tell, but at the heart of each, the message was the same: Solite was bad for Clay County back then and it still is today and they need to cleanup and get out.

Jim Oliveros of SCS Engineers of Jacksonville, represented the prospective buyer, estimated Solite site cleanup to cost $2.3 million and admitted hazardous waste is still present in the area, although in small amounts. He said nothing exceeds standards for freshwater surfaces, standards that pertain to fish consumption, recreational water use water and healthy populations of fish. Oliveros said there was limited groundwater and soil impacts, even in the areas where the drums that held hazardous materials were crushed into the ground.

Commission member Ralph Puckhaber said he was uncomfortable with the density increase and cited the danger it poses for emergencies and more, as well as the supposed guarantee that Solite will use the $2 million for cleanup. He ended his thoughts simply, stating that, “Just because it’s the first plan, doesn’t mean it’s the best option.”

After a lengthy debate, Puckhaber made a motion to recommend against the staff approval report and recommend denial. Fraser attempted to ask for another continuance after the motion was made but this request was denied by Anzalone, who said that request was not allowed at the time. After that, the Planning Commission voted 5-0 in favor of the motion, thus denying the recommendation of the staff and the subsequent requests accompanying the sale doctored by Fraser.

Comments

1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Richguy61

Sadly, if the past is an indicator, the BCC will once again overturn the Planning Commission's recommendation in favor of the developer. Given Commissioner Hendry's cozy relationship with Susan Fraser, and given that the developers always get their way with the BCC, the residents in that area will be screwed over for one person's benefit.

Thursday, June 7