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Tempers flare over Eureka Gardens gas leak

Fire Marshal confirms Hazmat dealing with another gas leak at complex

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's the second major gas leak at Eureka Gardens in a month, and residents of the troubled complex, as well as the local councilman for that area, said they are fed up with how the owner is handling the problem.

The leak broke out near building 20 in the apartment complex, and the strong smell of gas appeared to be coming from underneath the sidewalk nearest the building. News4Jax spoke to some residents Monday night who said they're upset with how much the gas leak has inconvenienced them.

"I'm upset, I'm furious. I don't know what to do. Three hundred something people live out here at Eureka, it's a last choice. Eureka is a last option. People's rent is $25. Where are you going to come up with $65? Let alone to go to a hotel, most people don't have cars out here," said Alexis Laury. "It's an inconvenience, it's wrong, and it's wrong to say what you can give me for the inconvenience."

Residents received a letter on their doors saying the gas was turned off and that Eureka Gardens would reimburse each apartment up to $65 for a hotel room for the night due to the inconvenience. And some of the residents told News4aJax the leak has been going on since this weekend.

Councilman Garrett Dennis (pictured below) said no residents of Eureka Gardens have had to be relocated but said after Thursday's major gas leak that left many residents concerned, his administration has made the recommendation to the owner Rev. Richard Hamlet.

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"Right now he's very reluctant. But, the city, we're moving forward," Dennis said. "They've called a plumbing company out here to try to fix the leak, but that's going to be late into the night because right now TECO Gas Company is out. They've turned off all the gas here in the complex and now they're blowing out the lines so that life safety is preserved."

According to the fire marshal, hazmat teams found that gas was coming from underneath the sidewalk. After testing the air near the site, it was revealed that 94 percent of natural gas was leaking into the air. The fire Chief Kevin Jones said things could have been much worst Monday night.

"It's very dangerous. In fact, back in the 70s and 80s they had a gas explosion for that reason. Someone walking by, tosses a cigarette, catches a vapor trail and it wouldn't be hard to ignite when you have 90 percent pure natural gas," said Jones.

Dennis said he's frustrated with how much push back residents received when asked to be relocated. He said the complex is looking at their bottom line, but he's making sure the mayor is aware of every incident.

"They've been in contact with the mayor. The mayor is very pissed. We've been working the phones with our federal partners, federal HUD, bringing them up to speed with what's going on," said Dennis.

Residents expressed frustration with the second major gas leak at the complex in the last month. Eureka Gardens Tenant Association President Tracy Grant said the Fire Marshal's Office told her gas will likely have to be cut to every unit in the complex until the leak is fixed.

"We'll continue on our road so that it can get done right one way or the other," Grant said. "Whether they have to move people and redo apartments or they just begin to do it right."

And if an explosion would have taken place, Jones said the complex would have been at fault. On Thursday evening, the gas lines were turned off and the company TECO will test lines, and if pressure doesn't hold they won't turn the gas on. The city will go in, unit-by-unit, to make sure it's safe for each unit to live in.

Hamlet released this statement Monday evening:

"Late this afternoon there was a gas leak onsite at Eureka. Management called a vendor to come to the site to repair the leak. The Fire Marshal was on site, that specific vendor left without repairing the leak. Another vendor is now on site working to complete the repairs. We care about our residents and apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

"(I'm) traveling this evening, at my authorization, our management team on site offered to relocate any resident who desired to go to a hotel , GMF would cover the room cost . The repairs are being done, we anticipate the gas being turned back on tomorrow."

It was unclear Thursday evening how long repairs on the gas leak might take. 

Many troubles for complex

The owner of Eureka Gardens could face fines of up to $500 per violation for units that failed re-inspection, city attorneys said.

The residents of the troubled apartment complex are calling for those hefty fines to be levied against the Rev. Richard Hamlet, founder of Global Ministries Foundation, because the condition of dozens of apartments still violate the law.

Tenants have been dealing with mold, crumbling stairways and gas leaks at the complex for months. It's been weeks since a News4Jax investigation helped prompt a city code enforcement sweep that revealed deplorable conditions. Inspectors entered 165 units during the two-day sweep and found violations in 163 of them. Of those, three were tenant violations. The rest were the responsibility of the landlord.

The city began re-inspecting the complex last week and found 37 of 103 units scheduled for re-inspection were still not up to code.

Thirty-eight units passed inspection, and their cases were considered closed.

Another 28 units were not inspected, because the tenant was either not home or refused access to inspectors.

The city also noted that 21 stairways failed inspection.

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Because Hamlet could face $500 for each violation, if one apartment has three or four violations, Hamlet could be looking at thousands of dollars per apartment.
Residents want the city to hit Hamlet where it hurts.

"He should be fined, heavily fined," Barbara Everhart said.

Everhart said she's finally seeing some progress on her roof and on the ground, where contractors are trying to make repairs.

Everhart said the fixes have been a long time coming.

"I called 18 times, 18 times I called to the office and reported this every time," Everhart said. "And one time, I went and reported it face to face."

Time is running out for Eureka Gardens property managers, who will soon have to attend a special magistrate hearing.

At the hearing, a city attorney sits as a judge and hears evidence from property managers and evidence from the city. The attorney determines how many violations still exist and which ones failed to be fixed by the deadline, which could result in daily rolling civil fines of $500 per violation.

"Hold him to his word. You have to be accountable," resident Gunean Hooks said. "Everyone is accountable with whatever it is that they do."

Hooks said her roof has been leaking for the past two years, and every complaint up until now has gone unheeded.

"I'm noticing now that roofs are being repaired, the stairwells are being repaired, and everything that should have been done a long time ago," Hooks said.

The city is not finished re-inspecting Eureka Gardens. The next round of inspections is scheduled for Monday, which is why the city has yet to schedule the special magistrate hearing. When that hearing occurs, it will be open to the public.  


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