Friday, May 25, 2007

Port LaBelle Chemical Spill Cover Up?

Colony Helicopter Company Leaks Chemicals Into Ground

LABELLE, FL. -- Has the Port LaBelle Development District and the Barron Water Control District attempted a "cover up" of a significant pesticide chemical spill behind their offices on Dellwood Terrace in Port LaBelle? Some area residents and possibly one new Development District board member thinks so.

An anonymous letter by a "concerned citizen" was sent out to some Port LaBelle area residents last week asking why a chemical spill in October 2005 during Hurricane Wilma was not cleaned up for many months, and not until complaints were made to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Hendry Building and Zoning, the wrecked building not being cleaned up for a year afterward.

The letter claimed that Barron Water Control District which owned the building containing 150 fifty-gallon drums of pesticides and herbicides of which several were damaged and leaked their content into the ground.  The letters continues saying the spill was not cleaned up for 13 months after Barron Water Control was "caught" by the Florida DEP investigators after a presumed complaint and claiming gross negligence by Barron Water Control and manager Ralph Nicholson, and the Board's Directors.  The letter claimed some collusion between the Chairman of the Board as he was believed to be a manager for Duda Farms, for which the chemicals may have been used in aerial spraying applications.

Nicholson, at a meeting of the Port LaBelle Development District Thursday, after an inquiry by new board member Suzanne Gee, said the wrecked building was leased to Colony Helicopters, and the Barron Water Control District had to resort to filing an eviction suit to get access to the building as Nicholson said it was surrounded by a locked fence and the District attorney said not to enter the site without going through an eviction process.  Colony, Nicholson said, claimed that they could not do anything to clean up the site pending insurance company and FEMA settlements, and stalled any efforts by the District to get it cleaned up.

After the DEP and Building and Zoning eventually got involved, Nicholson says Colony cooperated in the cleanup and paid all the costs.  Colony's helicopters stopped flying several years ago and the company auctioned off its equipment and helicopters in August of last year. The large auction billboard sign is still illegally laying on the ground at the southeast corner of Birchwood Parkway and State Road 80 despite complaints to the auction company and Hendry Building and Zoning officials.

The Dellwood Terrace site behind the Board's office will remain under water and soil test observation by the DEP for some time to monitor any safety issues.

Colony Helicopters operated at two different Dellwood Terrace sites for decades and observers say there is most likely other chemical contaminations of the ground and water all along Dellwood Terrace which may have spread to the Eucalyptus Village community to the west, and the sewage plant grounds just south of Dellwood. Colony for many years rented an office building from the Port LaBelle Development District on Dellwood. Colony experienced alleged fraud by one of its employees several years ago, losing a significant amount of money they claimed. Colony's large vacant warehouse building is now up for sale.

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