After their first meeting with the Clay County Planning Commission on May 1 didn’t go too well, the Solite Corporation(s) came back for another performance on May 31. That one didn’t go very well, either.
The Solite Corporation was previously a plant in the Russell Community of Green Cove Springs, which opened in the early ’50s. It mined clay and baked it at high temperatures, producing concrete-like pebbles that were used as drainage for septic fields and building materials. In the ’50s, the plant used clean fuels to fire the kilns. In the ’70s, it began burning hazardous wastes to fire kilns. According to Environmental Protection Agency reports, Solite’s equipment and practices were not up to standards, which allowed hazardous contamination to be released into the air, sections of the company’s 900 acres, and waterways. Facing resistance from neighbors and several governmental agencies, Solite pulled production in the middle of a summer night in the mid-’90s, leaving lots of hazardous chemicals and, coincidentally, some dead, dying and seriously ill neighbors. Now Solite is back with a new stage name, Stoneridge Farms, which is an inactive company of Solite’s owner, Northeast Solite. Gray-haired, grandfatherly Albert Galliano is the face of Stoneridge Farms.
At the May 1 meeting, it appeared members of the planning commission were getting ready to make Solite clean up its mess. But Susan Fraser, a consultant hired by Stoneridge to usher the matter through, quickly orchestrated another meeting with Russell residents. That meeting took place on May 31 at the Lake Asbury Community Center. The get-together was to allow Solite, once again, to present its plans to sell the 900 acres—rife with hazardous wastes—to developer Michael Danhour, who intends to erect a large-scale residential neighborhood, as well as make another attempt to allay neighbors’ fears. Neither was accomplished.
Fraser spoke first at the May 31 meeting. She lay the ground rules for the proceedings. Still never uttering the Solite word, she said Stoneridge Farms would give a “presentation,” then they would take questions from the audience. But the audience had other plans. They told Fraser they had already heard Solite’s presentation and they were ready for answers. Although Fraser and the Russell residents’ county commissioner, Gayward Hendry, attempted to direct the process, residents repeatedly told Fraser to shut up and sit down. She eventually did.
Russell residents questioned Solite about tests that showed arsenic all over the property. One of two young engineers tasked with interpreting the hazardous waste tests results for Solite/Stoneridge, some of which were done approximately 28 years ago, and may possibly be tasked to do further testing on the site for Danhour, said “yes,” there was arsenic, but a little arsenic was good for you. This was greeted with audible groans from the audience.
One resident questioned Galliano about reports of dioxins on the property. Galliano said there was no dioxin. The resident had the report on his phone and quoted from it. Galliano said nothing further about dioxin. Galliano did say that Solite had tested the milk from dairies in the area and the tests found no toxins in the milk. Another audience member interjected that she was part of the group that fought Solite in the early ’90s and that Galliano was “lying.” She said Solite had not tested dairies in Russell, but instead had gone 20 miles south of Green Cove Springs to test the milk. She said Solite had made a practice of lying to the residents in the ’90s and it was still lying now.
Residents questioned Danhour about the traffic situation in the community. They said they sometimes spent hours stuck beside trains because their area had only one entrance and exit. Danhour said he could not make another entrance or exit, but he had a plan to reroute the traffic so it wouldn’t go past their houses. One resident pointed out the obvious flaw in Danhour’s plan. With one entrance, traffic would still bottleneck in their community. Another audience member questioned what Danhour intended to do if he found the area was highly contaminated and costs to clean it up were to exceed $2 million, which Danhour has pledged to put toward the cleanup. Danhour said Stoneridge Farms would then assume the costs. Galliano did not concur, instead remaining silent.
After two hours of rapid-fire questions and few real answers or solutions, one person in the audience stated nothing was getting accomplished and they all needed to go home to their kids.
Fraser, the Farms people, Danhour and especially the young engineers, agreed.
The matter is back on the dais at the Planning Commission Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 5 at 7 p.m. The planning commission will recommend whether to change the density from one home for every five acres to three homes per one acre. If this change happens, the matter will go to the Clay County Commission for a final vote. If both entities allow it, Solite and Danhour will begin to build homes on land that may or may not be “clean.” The planning commission could also put the plans of those involved with Solite on hold until it cleans up the hazardous mess or puts an end to the production altogether.
Either way, the saga continues.