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Gwen Graham blasts Rick Scott and DEP for delay in public records request on sinkhole spill

Six weeks after first requesting public records pertaining to the leak of contaminated water that occurred at a massive sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales Facility at the Hillsborough/Polk county line in August, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham says she wants to know why Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are “stalling” to release emails related to the controversy.

“Public records are the one tool we have to keep Gov. Rick Scott and his Department of Environmental Protection honest,” Graham said in a statement Friday. “They kept the sinkhole secret for weeks — and now they’re stalling on our public records request. Floridians have a right to know the truth, and if the governor won’t hold the Department of Environmental Protection accountable for this massive mistake, we will.”

Graham says her office has been told by DEP officials it has taken weeks for the department to complete a legal review of the records, and that the department’s communications team is also reviewing the public records before releasing them. In letters to Scott and DEP Secretary Jon Steverson, Graham said it may constitute a violation of the state’s Sunshine Law.

“As you are aware, Florida courts have ruled that an agency’s unjustified delay in producing public records constitutes an unlawful refusal to provide access to the requested records, in violation of chapter 119, Fla. Stat. The only delay in releasing public records permitted by law ‘is the limited reasonable time allowed the custodian to retrieve the record and delete those portions of the record the custodian asserts are exempt.’” Graham wrote in the letter. “Because this request does not involve an ongoing criminal investigation and the requested communications are unlikely to include exempt or confidential information (such as local residents’ Social Security numbers), there should be very little information to redact from these records. There is no excuse for this process to take longer than a few days — certainly not six weeks.”

“As we have told their staff, we are processing them through our standard procedures,” said Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for Governor Scott.

The DEP is making daily statements regarding the recovery process at the site, and said Thursday it has reviewed over 850 sample results from private drinking water wells, which have all met applicable federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards and showed no impacts related to process water from the sinkhole at the Mosaic New Wales facility. The agency says that they and the Department of Health are continuing to reach out to an additional 26 homeowners whose samples also show no impacts from the process water from the Mosaic sinkhole, but do have some some results above drinking water standards.

Graham has been aggressive in challenging Scott and the DEP to come forward with more information since the news about the massive sinkhole was finally disclosed to the media by Mosaic back in September. The agency has received criticism for waiting weeks after they learned about the toxic sinkhole before they took measures to alert the public.

Graham made her initial public records request to the DEP exactly six weeks ago. At that time, a spokeswoman for Scott said the governor has directed the DEP to expedite their investigation.  

Graham says she made a second public records request to Scott’s office on Sept. 29.

 

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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