Clearwater, Florida
July, 1999
by Lenny Siegel

The Community Speaks | Analysis | Lessons Learned

This is a three-part report on the Community Impact Statement exercise conducted by CPEO at the Clearwater, Florida Brownfields community meeting on Saturday, July 17, 1999. Based upon flip-chart notes, the first part directly reports community concerns. The second section summarizes and analyzes that community input. And the third section evaluates the exercise and suggests improvements for future efforts.

1. The Community Speaks

Nearly all of the dozen or so community members present were from the North Greenwood area, the portion of the Brownfields zone north of downtown Clearwater, so the discussion focused on that area. However, the one community member from South Greenwood was encouraged to raise issues from her area as well. In addition, officials with responsibility for the area and academics with experience there took part, attempting to report what they have heard. There was no voting, and there was no formal seeking of consensus. Nevertheless, since there were few areas of open disagreement, the following appears to generally represent the views and concerns of the entire group. Based upon earlier discussions and suggestions from the floor, participants initially came up with a list of nine issues:

  1. Stevenson's Creek
  2. Waste water treatment plant
  3. Lead poisoning (kids)
  4. Loitering
  5. Housing code
  6. Traffic/traffic noise
  7. Visual blight/junk
  8. Air pollution/asthma
  9. Toxic contamination

Facilitator Lenny Siegel walked the group quickly through an evaluation of six of those issues, determining the order both by a sense of which issues seemed important as well as which related most closely to the Brownfields pilot. One late-arriving community member added some additional issues near the end of the meeting:

  • Poor drinking water
  • Selling illegal meat
  • Boom boxes
  • Power lines (power surges)
  • Aging infrastructure (sewers, water, power lines, roads)

1. Stevenson's Creek

Community members, as well as those officials present, were unaware of the toxicity of the creek. The creek is silted up and full of muck. The mess moves into people's yards, and the water flows to the Gulf.

People notice the odor, and some people - who might not be from the neighborhood - catch and eat fish from the creek. Children walk in the area. Fish in the creek must be impacted by its condition.

The assumed contamination is due to stormwater run-off, upstream irrigation (including golf courses), and run-off from a junk yard.

The stream's condition diminishes fish resources and lowers property value, but it is primarily a quality of life issue - the number one issue in this community.

Protecting and restoring the creek is the responsibility of the city of Clearwater, other cities, the County, the Army Corps of Engineers, and EPA. Because the creek silts up repeatedly, restoration should be a recurring activity. Responsibility is general - that is, there is no single entity to blame. One-time restoration would cost $7.5 million.

2. Toxic Contamination

Participants knew little about the extent and nature of toxic contamination in the area, despite numerous identified brownfields sites where regulatory action is pending. There are no obvious acute health effects, so concerns are about chronic illnesses, even cancer.

No one knows of any drinking water wells in the area, due to Saltwater intrusion. Exposure pathways include inhalation and skin contact. Asthma might be a consequence. Since the area is low income, the impact of any contamination falls primarily on low-income, primarily African-American communities.

Any toxic substances in the soil probably flow to Stevenson's Creek. There are multiple sources of contamination, and exposures are accepted to be ongoing.

Cleaning up the contamination could create jobs. The presence of such Brownfields today discourages redevelopment. Abandoned sites Contribute to crime and blight

Cleanup is the responsibility of state regulators, the Federal Brownfields pilot, private owners, and law enforcement agencies.

Most sites are still at the identification stage. Everyone is responsible. The cost of response is estimated to be $250,000 each for about 100 petroleum sites.

3. Lead Poisoning

Some participants believe lead soil contamination to be high in the "Weed-n-Seed" area. Lead contamination either needs study, or studies need to be publicized. Most homes is the area were built about 1925, so lead paint is probably a problem. Since learning disabilities and other neurological disorders, even among adults, are possible consequences of high levels of lead exposure, more study and education are needed.

The greatest risk from lead is to young children (under age5). The sources are probably lead paint and old gas station sites.

Lead contamination may cause job loss and property devaluation. It's the responsibility of the County health department, private health organizations, and for public housing the U.S. Department of HUD.

When did paint and fuel manufacturers learn that lead was a hazard?

Abatement would be very expensive.

4. Loitering

Discourages business, attracts drug crime. It's the responsibility of police and land use planning agencies, but it's difficult to balance individual rights with community needs.

5. Air quality

Is Clearwater in a non-attainment area? Asthma is a concern.

At least one person believes that North Greenwood has bad odors. Maybe from the water treatment plant. It's worse in the fall when the weather is wet.

Inhalation is the pathway.

Bad air quality discourages development. The state and county are responsible.

6. Traffic

Some intersections are dangerous. S. Ft. Harrison and Pinellas St. are dangerous for kids. High traffic volume means too much noise, particularly along arterials. Some streets were expanded by taking away front yards, so many houses lack a buffer. Late night solicitation - from so-called "ice cream trucks" - is a nuisance. Trains are loud. Noise is a problem around the clock. On the other hand, traffic in commercial areas brings in business. Noise makes it hard to get insurance. It diminishes the quality of life. The city does have a noise ordinance - that applies to boom boxes, at least. Noise is everyone's responsibility.

2. Analysis

North Greenwood area residents identified problems that they could see, hear, and smell without the aid of technical experts. Many of these problems are not regulated by environmental agencies, but they define the community's environment. Any redevelopment effort, such as the Brownfields pilot, should consider these concerns. Even where studies have probably been done, community members know almost nothing about their toxic exposures, be they lead paint, ambient air pollution, or surface water contamination. Agencies that have the data need to present it. If they don't have useful data, then it would make sense to start collecting it. Still, people seem to care about toxic substances. Lead is the best example. Though participants don't know what local exposures are, they recognize that communities like theirs are afflicted with lead poisoning, and they want a response. Most of the issues related to infrastructure came up late, so we didn't fully explore them. Comprehensive redevelopment in this area should improve roads, sidewalks, sewage, power, etc., not just individual Brownfields sites, but the current residents can't really afford many of the improvements.

3. Lessons Learned

The Clearwater Community Impact Statement exercise confirmed the value of asking a community what it thinks about its environmental condition. Community members pointed out concerns that should help shape any environmental or redevelopment activity in the area. Likewise, it demonstrated the value of letting the community develop the scope of the exercise. Many of the issues that surfaced might have been missed through conventional environmental analysis.

On the other hand, the Clearwater exercise showed that at least two things were missing in the process. First, the background presentations on Brownfields and environmental justice were prepared independent of the exercise, so the participants were not fully aware of the potential uses of the results. Second, participants were not aware of/did not know the results of any technical studies of toxic releases and exposures in the community. Though they showed some interest, they couldn't evaluate toxic releases because they were unaware of their extent, nature, and potential consequences. Furthermore, the CPEO evaluation criteria did not match the information at hand. On the one hand, some of the criteria called for more knowledge of toxic exposures.

On the other hand, some of the criteria, such as "causality" and "responsibility," were not well explained. They added nothing to the exercise. Before conducting any future exercises, CPEO will consider modifying the criteria list or providing more up-front explanation.

Finally, the length of the exercise was cut short because we were running late. The Impact Statement exercise could have continued, effectively, for as much as an hour more. More important, some of the weaknesses (identified here) might have been addressed by focusing more of the morning presentations on the issues expected to come up during the exercise.

Overall, the Community Impact Statement exercise seems valuable for those involved in Clearwater Brownfields planning and illustrated the potential for such efforts elsewhere, but it need more preparation and refinement to meet its potential.