Azalea neighbors irate about response from Raytheon, Crist, Foster, and DEP

06/07/10 Seán Kinane
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The BP oil blowout isn’t the only environmental catastrophe some Pinellas residents have to worry about. People in the Azalea neighborhood of northwest St. Petersburg have been dealing with an underground plume of toxins coming from a nearby Raytheon plant. On Saturday morning, about 60 residents gathered with state legislators such as state Senator Charlie Justice in Azalea Park to call on the governor to do more.

Well, this goes back to 1991, when contamination was found on the Raytheon site. And then it spreads over the last 20 years where we've had migration of this plume across the neighborhood. And the big thing was, nobody knew about it. You know, the bureaucrats knew about it, and Raytheon knew about it. And we felt,the legislation that we filed was to require notification — notification of neighborhood leaders, notification of elected officials. Because it's my contention that if the people you saw here today, and the elected officials knew about it fifteen years ago, we would have forced the cleanup fifteen years ago, and the plume would not have spread as far as it did, and the neighborhood affected would not have been as affected as it is.

And so we're gonna continue to push for the legislation to require better notification. But in the meantime, we want people to call the governor, and we want the governor directly involved and leading this cleanup.

Sen. Justice, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Congress, sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist asking for his attention to the plume that started in 1991 before the company E-Systems was purchased by Raytheon. In March, the company released its cleanup plan, which it expects will take 78 years to complete.

Well, there's two parts. There's a pump-and-treat plan, which they have started on the site. But then the other is — and it's very scientific, and I'm hardly a scientist — but it's talking about putting in thermal treatment of the water underground, to heat it to a certain point, to sterilize it, basically, so that you get the contaminants out of it. You know, there's plans, there's that, or you could do pump-and-treat throughout the neighborhood at the contaminated well sites. There's different ways to go. The contamination we're seeing here is not foreign to other parts of Florida or other parts of the country. If the DEP has a plan that they prefer, give that to us, and let's get started today.

State Rep. Rick Kriseman also supports legislation for better notification of property owners affected by industrial pollution.

What happened to this neighborhood is really reprehensible. To think that you could have contamination either on your property or live next door to it, and have no information, nothing telling you about that, is just wrong. I mean, pure common sense would tell you, you should know. And that's what this legislation really attempted to do. Plus, if we expect our government officials to be involved in cleanup and trying to prevent things like this, it would help if they knew also. You know, I served for six years on the city council in this district, and I had no information. I had no knowledge that this was happening. And that's wrong.

Kathy Armstrong lives less than a block from Azalea Park.

Well, it makes me feel, actually, really nervous and uncomfortable, that it's taking so long. We actually moved here three years ago, thinking we had moved into the perfect neighborhood, and looking at resale value down the road. And it's a great neighborhood for families and stuff, but now I don't know anyone who'd really want to take the risk of buying or moving into the neighborhood until all this is taken care of. So I'm really concerned that we moved into a neighborhood three years ago where there'd already been existing problems, and we weren't even aware of it. So hopefully, they'll come up with something, but it doesn't look very promising. It's taking an awfully long time.

Sandy Blower lives behind Azalea Park Elementary School. She wants Governor Crist to get more involved.

Well, I think everybody needs to still get together and contact Charlie Crist. He needs to do something for us. He was voted in, and he hasn't done anything to support us at all. And that's the only way, in numbers, that we're going to get anything. And I said to everybody today, “We need to, everybody contact him — e-mail, letters, whatever. We need to show him that we are going to support each other.

Dominick Griesi is president of the Azalea Neighborhood Association, and says Raytheon’s response has been disappointing.

Well, it's been really pathetic, actually. It's just a shell game, as far as I'm concerned. They move the shell one way, and DEP says it's not enough, and then Raytheon does something else. And, you know, it's a back-and-forth shuffle all the time. It's the blame game. So it's he said, she said.

During his speech to the crowd of 60 people from the neighborhood, Griesi called for DEP Secretary Michael Sole to be fired and said Governor Crist and St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster need to get more involved.

Well, the mayor has not been involved at all. And he can use the excuse he's a new mayor, but to me that's no excuse. He knew about the problem before he was elected. The governor has done nothing. He's a St. Petersburg resident, and he has not been involved. As far as I'm concerned, he's just busy getting photo ops with the president. I mean, we have a serious problem with the Gulf. And I hate it; I go to the beach every Saturday. But I just feel that he's a resident of St. Pete, this was a problem long before the Gulf, and he's not gotten involved whatsoever.

The Azalea Neighborhood Association and its lawyers will discuss its class-action lawsuit against Raytheon at its next meeting, on June 10 at the Azalea Baptist Church.

Florida DEP Secretary Michael Sole

More WMNF coverage of the Raytheon plume:

Sen. Justice calls for speedier cleanup of Raytheon chemical plume

Justice criticizes Young on toxic Raytheon plume

Azalea resident sues Raytheon over contamination

Officials questioned on Raytheon toxic plume

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