Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Joins Negotiations in Pollution Cleanup

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Joins Negotiations in Pollution Cleanup

Article excerpt

In the hope that giving a little now will save a lot later, the Jacksonville City Council yesterday authorized City Hall to join a group being told to pay $2.38 million for a federal pollution cleanup in Northwest Jacksonville.

The cleanup, completed by the Environmental Protection Agency three years ago, removed oil contamination that had threatened groundwater. The site, at 3831 Williams St. in Biltmore, formerly housed Bill Johns Waste Oil Site, a company that collected and re-sold used oils from many commercial and government entities from 1977 to 1995.

EPA officials allege City Hall and about 100 other parties share responsibility for the pollution because they did business with the now-defunct company.

The council yesterday allocated $4,000 to join the group, which will allow City Hall to help negotiate a final cost settlement with the EPA.

"The smart and prudent thing to do is to be part of the negotiations," said Councilwoman Suzanne Jenkins, chairwoman of the council's Public Health and Safety Committee. "It's a lot better than somebody else deciding what you owe."

City lawyer Greg Radlinski said City Hall briefly hired the oil company through a state grant to run the city's used oil recycling program. The company was supposed to pick up used car oil that residents could drop off at sites around the city, but the contract was canceled in less than three months.

"He had a sloppy operation," Radlinski said, citing city records that showed collection sites were left messy after company pick-ups.

The EPA also says City Hall used the company to collect waste oil from the Coliseum and the city's Fleet Management division, which handles city cars. But Radlinski says City Hall has no record of that business and will dispute the charge.

The brevity of City Hall's contract with the company should help minimize the city's liability, city officials said.

"Because we kept good records, it should show that our part was pretty small," Jenkins said. "The one contract that could be found showed he wasn't doing a good job and we terminated the contract. At least we monitored that."

Still, Radlinski said it was "galling" for City Hall to be held responsible for the pollution. …

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