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Sunday, Mar 01, 2015

Oil spill allegations concern Hernando County


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More concerns about the Brooksville Air Center surfaced Tuesday when a resident told county commissioners there could be as much as 280 or more gallons of jet fuel that seeped into the ground there leading to possible environmental contamination.

This revelation comes at the same time commissioners are questioning why two separate appraisals of the Air Center came back with huge discrepancies.

The twin concerns promoted County Commission Chairman Dave Russell to ask Commissioner Wayne Dukes to meet with staff and report back to the board. Commissioner Jim Adkins said he too plans to dig deeper into the matter.

Airport officials have already tendered a $1.25 million offer to buy the Air Center at 15421 Technology Drive and that deal is expected to close April 22.

Dukes said he is familiar with the real estate process and it is not unusual for appraisals to come back at least 10 percent apart.

An appraisal, conducted by Hugh Tolle from Crystal River, came back showing a leasehold market value of $1.4 million.

But an appraisal done independently by a private business owner, performed by Michael Hodges with Airport Business Solutions, came back at $790,000 to $940,000

That is too wide a margin, Dukes said and he will explore the discrepancy.

Hodges’ report referenced environmental concerns on the site and those were reiterated to the board Tuesday by Paul Douglas, president of the local branch of the NAACP.

Douglas, who previously made an offer on the building, said he investigated further and believes there are three separate fuel spills totaling more than 280 gallons that could have leaked into the ground.

Douglas cited an airplane that sat on the site for two years with a fully loaded fuel tank. When the former owners of the facility tried to remove it, they discovered at least 80 gallons was gone, Douglas said.

With a potential contaminated site, combined with the presence of known sinkholes in the area, the building’s value has diminished and it will be difficult for the county to recoup its money through renting fees, Douglas said.

“They are spending our money on a substandard property,” Douglas said.

Airport Manager Don Silvernell told the board he was unaware of any environmental concerns at the facility and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not site any problems during an inspection.

But Douglas said the FDEP did a phase one cursory analysis of the property and needs to take soil samples for a truer picture.

Business Development Manager Mike McHugh said after the story broke last week in Hernando Today, he contacted Tolle, who provided a detailed explanation as to how he arrived at his $1.4 million appraisal.

Based on Silvernell and McHugh’s findings, County Commissioner Diane Rowden – the board’s liaison to the airport – said she sees no reason to not move forward with the closing.

If there had been oil spills, the county would have heard about them by now, Rowden said.

But Commissioner Nick Nicholson said because there have been accusations of oil spills, it is incumbent on the county to investigate.

(352) 544-5290

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