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Gwen Graham still not satisfied after receiving DEP records regarding Mosaic sinkhole issue

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is speaking out critically about the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, after she reviewed public records regarding the massive sinkhole at Mosaic’s facility in Polk County.

“Unless there are records that were not produced as required by law, the disclosures show an alarming lack of communication among state regulators about a threat to the health and safety of Florida families and our environment,” said Graham in a statement. “I am very concerned that we had a watchdog agency asleep at the wheel.”

In late August, a 45-foot wide, 300-foot deep sinkhole opened up at Mosaic’s New Wales plant , emptying 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan Aquifer. It was stunning news when it was released to the general public — weeks after the incident occurred.

Since that time, Graham, a potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate, has persisted in demanding the DEP and the governor’s office turn over all electronic communication relating to the toxic sinkhole. After weeks of delay, she is now has those records, but says they don’t convey much information.

The emails show that before the sinkhole was revealed in September, nearly all of the electronic communications regarding the incident were email exchanges between the DEP and Mosaic employees. A review of the records from the governor’s office and DEP (which can be read here) contained few internal communications between state employees concerning the sinkhole before it became public. And Graham notes while there were “several” emails from the governor’s office about her questions, there aren’t any “demonstrating concern” over the sinkhole and DEP’s response or examining potential solutions to the problem.

The public information released also includes many emails sent to the DEP from concerned citizens, both in Florida and around the country. There’s also a request from an aide to now-District 19 state Sen. Darryl Rouson contacting the governor’s office to determine if he can sponsor the bill Rick Scott announced in September that would ensure that the public is kept informed of incidents of pollution that may cause a threat to public health and to Florida’s air and water resources.

In her statement, Graham says “it’s also concerning regarding the state’s communications with its own scientists” and refers to one exchange from a geologist, who has spent more than 20 years working for the state, who raised concerns over the lack of information: “I’m working on that facility with EPA but no one told me about it [the sinkhole]. So much for communication.”

“These public records responses indicate communication has broken down within Gov. Scott’s state agencies,” Graham said. “With this kind of threat to Florida families and the environment, the governor’s office and DEP should have been ringing alarm bells and taking swift action. Nothing in these records indicates they were operating with any sense of urgency. Either we are still missing documents, or the state didn’t particularly care. Neither situation is acceptable.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the 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. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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