An Unusual Punishment For an Uncertain Violation

Material Information

An Unusual Punishment For an Uncertain Violation
Tampa Tribune


Subjects / Keywords:
Cleaning ( jstor )
Soils ( jstor )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida


Tampa Tribune Editorial December 28, 1988
General Note:
Box 7, Folder 4 ( Vail Conference 1989 - 1989 ), Item 87
Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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An Unusual Punishment

For an Uncertain Violation

Three brothers dig several holes on
land near a government opera-
tion. Officials, fearing the brothers'
business will cause problems, react
ruthlessly. The brothers are fined and
jailed. They end up nearly penniless.
Their land is confiscated and turned
over to a business friendly with the
A tale from a Third World dictator-
No, that's essentially what has hap-
pened to three Hillsborough County
brothers Charles, William and
James Martin in a dispute with Pi-
nellas County.
An investigation by Tribune report-
er Booth Gunter details Pinellas' Iron-
fisted battering of the Martins. Gover-
nor Bob Martinez should appoint a
special Investigator to look into the bi-
zarre affair.
The story began in the '70s when
the brothers dug two borrow pits on
land near Pinellas' Eldrldge-Wilde
well field. The well field, on the Pinel-
las-Hillsborough border, supplies
about half of Pinellas' drinking water.
After selling dirt from the pits to
construction companies, the Martins
filled the holes with trash. That was a
bad mistake, given the well field's
proximity. The Martins, who did not
bother obtaining a permit before dig-
ging one of the pits, were inviting
trouble. They got more than that.
In 1983 Pinellas officials reported
finding traces of chemicals in several
Eldridge-Wllde wells. They accused
the Martins of dumping toxic chemi-
cals. The Martins maintain only con-
struction debris and top soil were put
In the pits.
Pinellas County sued the Martins
and spent millions in a protracted le-
gal fight. Scientists from the Florida
Department of Environment Regula-
tion, the US. Environmental Protec-
tion Agency, the Hilsborough County
Environmental Protection Commis-
sion, and other experts all examined
soil from the Martins' land and con-
cluded it was no threat to the well
In 1986, Pnlellas Circuit Judge
Fred Bryson chose to believe county-
paid consultants, who said the soil was
tainted. He ordered the Martins to
clean up the landfill and pay Pinelas
$4.2 million.
It stands as an odd decision be-
cause DER findings continue to con-
tradict Pinellas' stand. Since the
cleanup of the Martin land began,
DER has analyzed test results from
5,000 cubic yards of "contaminated"
soil. The dirt was found to be harm-
DER officials say Pinellas' data are
invalid because improper procedures
were used in many tests. DER scien-
tists also found no sign of pollution in
the Eldridge-Wilde wells that Pinellas
claimed were polluted.
Such facts mean little to officials of

either Pinellas County or the court.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal re-
cently upheld Bryson's ruling. Legal
expenses have nearly bankrupted the
The court actions puzzle. But what
is happening at James Martin's prop-
erty is even more perplexing. After
Martin failed to meet cleanup dead-
lines, Pinellas chose K.B.H. Construc-
tion Co. to excavate the site. The firm
is a subsidiary of C.P. Ward Inc.,
which has received numerous Pinel-
las contracts.
Judge Bryson approved a contract
that allowed the company to sell
"clean" dirt from Martin's land to
compensate for expenses incurred re-
moving the "tainted" soil. Sixteen
months later, much of the soil the
judge deemed so dangerous remains
on site, but K.B.H has sold more than
$745,450 worth of clean soil. The court
allows the sales because the firm has
run up $910,583 in cleanup expenses.
The Tribune discovered that LB.H.
pays extraordinarily high rental fees.
For instance, Gunter reported that the
company was charged at least
$162,322 for the continuous use of a
six-Inch water pump and the occasion-
al use of another. The pump sells for
about $12,000 and normally can be
rented for about $1,20 month. Among
the firm's other rental charges were
$37,312 for a pickup truck.
It is of more than passing interest
that KIB.H. rents its equipment from
its parent company, C.P. Ward. Judge
Bryson has not questioned the ar-
rangement. Someone should.
Indeed, many questions need to be
asked about the Martin case.
Why did Pinellas officials rent
churches and hold meetings to rally
neighborhood opposition against the
Martins? Why did Pinellas take action
only against the Martins when there
were numerous other dumps In the ar-
ea? Did Pinelas County's own sewer
department contaminate wells by
spreading sludge within 100 feet of
theEldridge-Wide in 1982 aspe Mar-
tins claim?
Why is Bryon, who jaled James
Martin for two months for missing
cleanup deadlines, lettig K.B.I. take
its time removing the "contaminated"
dirt? And why did Pinellas spend
nearly $5 million pursuing the case -
county attorney John Allen has
earned nearly $850,000 off of it -
when every major environmental
agency said the landfills posed no
There is no question the Martins
acted irresponsibly, whether they
dumped toxic chemicals in the pits or
not. But what they've suffered at the
hands of Pinellas officials and Bryson
constitutes cruel and highly unusual
punishment. Governor Bob Martinez
should appoint a special investigator
to find out just what is at the bottom
of this murky affair.