Proctor calls for investigation of chemical clean up at health center site
By St. Clair Murraine
If Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor gets his wish for an investigation of how Big Bend Cares is carrying out a contamination clean up order it might not be by the State Attorney’s office.
However, state attorney Jack Campbell said his staff will follow up on a letter that Proctor and physician/activist Edward Holifield wrote him last week asking for an investigation.
“Commissioner Proctor referred it to me and I’m assuming he has good grounds why he referred it to us,” Campbell said. “I’m taking it seriously and I’m going to spend some time looking into it.”
Campbell, however, said he didn’t suspect any criminal circumstances surrounding the way the contamination is being handled by Big Bend Cares. He also said that in his 16 years with the state attorney’s office he hasn’t seen any similar case handled by the agency.
Proctor and Holifield also said during a press conference last week that they have concerns about reports that patients without insurance would not be admitted at the clinic. In addition to primary care, the facility will offer dental, labortory and pharmacy. They also questioned how Big Bend Cares is using $1.5 million from the Frenchtown Community Redevelopment Agency.
At the heart of the request for an investigation is construction of a 27,000-square foot building that will house Big Bend Cares’ Care Point Health and Wellness Center. Since construction began last fall, Holifield has expressed concerns that the property located at the corner of South Monroe and Magnolia streets is contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals.
The property was the site of an old auto repair shop. Proctor said he didn’t see any difference between the contamination and the widely reported contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., for which several government officials were charged.
“We want to make sure that this is being done legally and if they have not done it we want Mr. Campbell to exercise his powers to make sure that this is done correctly,” Proctor said. “If anyone is doing anything intentionally, criminally then they should be prosecuted by the law.”
Big Bend Cares has defended its clean-up effort, saying that the Department of Environmental Protection has been monitoring the project. DEP has given Big Bend Cares 60 days to file an update on the clean up.
“It’s a process. It’s notsomething that I’m an expert on,” said Charlie Adams deputy director of Big Bend Cares. “We get back environment surveys, listen to our builders (and) any agencies that have requirements we need to meet and we respond accordingly.”
Although Proctor shared a memo that indicated contaminated dirt was spread to a large area, Adams, who was at the press conference, said Big Bend Cares is doing what it can to satisfy DEP requirements.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We have no interest in having a polluted worksite. This clinic is about health and wellness and changing a community, and not polluting a community. That’s as simple as I can make it.”
DEP, which has been monitoring the Care Point and Wellness Center project, said it hasn’t been informed that there are exposure concerns. But Holifield isn’t convinced.
“Our own money is being used in a way that could result in the Black community being poisoned,” he said. “I can’t even pronounce all the chemicals on that property and I’m a doctor.”