JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Residents who are upset over a project behind their homes in Jacksonville’s Grove Park neighborhood gathered on Monday evening for a meeting to share their concerns.
Developers working on a project for a Wawa gas station miles away on Baymeadows Road needed fresh dirt and a place to dump the soil from the build site. In April, they bought land behind several homes on Grove Park Boulevard for $115,000, knocked down the trees and started swapping soil.
Neighbors in the area have been complaining after seeing increased truck traffic in the area and dirt on nearby roads. Regulators with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are investigating five potential violations at the dig site.
Over the past few weeks, state and city inspectors have been out to investigate almost daily. Drone video from neighbor and IT specialist Michael Best appears to show a trail of cloudy water several hundred yards long in Pottsburg Creek, which feeds into the St. Johns River.
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City Council member Kevin Carrico, who represents the area, scheduled the community meeting a Holiday Hill Baptist Church Monday night.
“I just wanted everyone to be in the same place at the same time so we can all talk through the issues, find out what the questions are. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll find them,” Carrico said before the meeting.
Matt Jones, president of the Grove Park Association, also attended the meeting.
“This whole project flew in under the radar,” Jones said. “There were no warning signs. One day they weren’t there, the next day they were there. It just came out of nowhere. And all we want are answers.”
During the meeting, homeowners shared their concerns and distaste over what’s going on in their neighborhood.
“Is anybody doing any soil testing from the site of origination for the soil? I mean, what are they putting in there?” he asked.
He recalled a recent night a few weeks ago.
“The wind changed, and I swear it smelled like an open drain field. The smell would knock you down. I lived there for over 60 years, I’ve never smelled anything like that in my life,” he said.
Another homeowner said he’s live in the neighborhood since 1993.
“And, you know, we’re here for life,” he said. “I mean we back up the woods and wetlands on Silversmith Creek, and that is to me is one of the best and most precious thing about my house, and I don’t have to look at anybody. I got woods back there. I got owls and all the wildlife that comes. And, you know, I would hope that if I had this same issue, y’all would come to, you know, my aid as well.”
Neighbors said they’re still watching the site closely, noting that over the weekend an excavator got stuck in a mud pit and had to be removed by a tow truck.
State regulators have sent a warning letter to Timothy Stevens of Baymit II LLC, the company that bought the land, Daniel Bergin, the contractor with Tampa-based Dirt on Demand, and Roy Shaw, with Jacksonville-based Shaw’s Land Clearing.
In the warning letter, FDEP’s district director Gregory Strong said it was making contact with the possible violators to discuss the case and possible repercussions.
“Violations of Florida Statutes or administrative rules may result in liability for damages and restoration, and the judicial imposition of civil penalties,” he wrote. “The Department is interested in receiving any facts that you may have which might assist in determining whether any violations have occurred. You may bring anyone with you to the meeting that you feel could help resolve this matter.”
In a letter to FDEP, in response to the allegations, Bergin said “NO employee or subcontractor of Dirt On Demand LLC started the pump and moved the discharge hose to outfall into the creek. This appears to be the work of an unaffiliated and unauthorized person(s).”
When reached by phone, Bergin reiterated what he wrote in the letter. He said he hoped to wrap up the project within the week and get the property closed down.