FOUNDRY FUNK: Residents sound off over cleanup speed in Geneva

Geneva City Council, FL1 File

Geneva City Manager Matt Horn says the City is ‘disappointed’ with certain aspects of the remediation process at the site of the former Geneva Foundry.

Roughly 140 homes are affected by soil contamination, and according to an update by Horn at Wednesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of Geneva City Council an additional 100 properties could be evaluated by the DEC.

“We’re going to push the DEC,” Horn continued. “We’re disappointed with the schedule or lack thereof.”

A wide range of speakers came out to let City Council know how they feel on Wednesday, with many speakers taking the city to task over their handling of the entire issue.

Tests have shown that the soil around the former foundry is contaminated with arsenic and lead. Many of the properties are home to families, minorities, and elderly.

Three groups that feel to varying degrees that they have been mistreated throughout the process.

“You knew about the lead and arsenic,” one speaker sternly said while addressing the council.

Another speaker addressed City Council to share with them her story, which included a battle with Lupus and kidney failure. She believes both were brought on by the contamination.

Many of the residents who spoke addressed the higher-instances of sickness and cancer in the area targeted for cleanup. However, many of those residents are concerned about how soon the cleanup will take place.

“Cleanup is scheduled to begin in July,” Horn added during his update to City Council.

Geneva City Council, FL1 File

Ward 4 City Councilor Ken Camera requested that Horn and Mayor Ron Alcock consider releasing monthly updates on the DEC cleanup process, and where the city stands in the process as well. He added that it would help inform residents, if released in form of a press release, on one of the most-important issues in Geneva.

He also said that in the past, the City has had great success selling facts about important issues, because it limits uncertainty. “Facts can’t be refuted,” he explained to council.

Currently, Horn says the city is working on coordinating a date for a public session — where the City, DEC, and residents from throughout the community can come together to discuss the process.

Horn stressed that the DEC needs to be provided the most-significant updates, but felt that they would likely not bite on holding one of those meetings until they have worked through the entire remediation planning process.

“It’s important that residents grant permission to the DEC,” he continued — explaining one of the major roadblocks in the process.

Residents inside the remediation zone must grant permission to the DEC for them to even step foot on individual pieces of property. He voiced concerns about the fact that if some residents don’t check their mail, or haven’t sent back the correct documentation that they could be overlooked in the process.

Horn said to address that issue, he wanted to see the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center work with the DEC, going door-to-door to seek approval from individual homeowners. He also hoped that this would address any language barriers that may exist.

Map of area around former Geneva Foundry.

Officials also insisted that the DEC send out documentation and fact sheets in English and Spanish.

One of the most-interesting speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting, who addressed the foundry issue — was at-large City Councilor Mark Gramling.

He lives in the “contamination zone” and said that it was time for City Council to do what is right and moral.

Deputy Mayor John Greco said that the reason Gramling was speaking during public comment, was due to the fact that he lives in the contamination zone and has not been involved with any of the meetings between officials and City Council.

Greco was filling in for Mayor Ron Alcock, who was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

“He chose to recuse himself,” Horn explained after the meeting ended. Several members of the public, and even Councilor Camera asked why Gramling would be abstaining from votes on the matter. “It’s self-enforced,” he added, noting that no one on Council or with the City asked him to step back.

Gramling’s remarks were passionate, but like most residents — his primary concern was for his family and home, which remains the common thread among all involved.

It’s clear that those who have homes or family impacted by the contamination are looking for drastic relief after years of exposure to something that was not advertised. “Maybe they shouldn’t pay property taxes until the issues are corrected,” one speaker added, which was met with thunderous applause.