Winter Springs Commissioners express contamination concern ahead of superfund site annexation final vote

Winter Springs
Rubble of a demolished building is all that’s left of the former site of a General Dynamics Corporation manufacturing facility, which is now an EPA Superfund site due to chemical contamination. It was just approved for annexation in a second vote by the Winter Springs City Commission. Photo by Isaac Babcock.

In a rare contentious second public hearing vote to annex a property, Winter Springs approved annexing a former electronics manufacturing plant that’s now a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, voting for a final time to annex it into the city. 

“I have great concerns about annexing this property,” Commissioner Ted Johnson said before the vote. “When I look at this and I see that the contaminated groundwater from this site has likely merged with the contaminated groundwater from the adjacent site, and the adjacent site was annexed in 1992 and apparently is still, according to the EPA, in remedial action phase, that doesn’t give me a lot of faith that this particular site is going to be cleaned up in one year.”

The site to which Johnson was referring is located along the east side of U.S. 17/92 just south of where Winter Springs’ borders give way to an expanse of forest and wetland within the Spring Hammock Preserve. 

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Though it’s been more than 30 years since General Dynamics Corporation operated an electronics manufacturing facility there, it has been flagged by the EPA for groundwater contamination that still exists under the site, which is next to the former Sprague Electric company, another Superfund site in the process of being cleaned up for toxic chemicals. 

“The superfund site that we are talking about is loaded with what I call ‘VOCs,’ which are highly toxic,” said Robert Miller, a former Winter Springs Commissioner and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, expressing concern for the safety of the water and nearby areas. “They’ve also been used for chemical weapons.”

But the site is in the process of being cleaned up, said Winter Springs City Attorney Anthony Garganese, corroborating the words of Jim Willard, the attorney representing the potential developer of the site, Florida Auto Auction Properties LLC. 

“Mr. Garganese and I spent considerable time on the phone with the EPA attorney,” Willard said. “The fact that it’s a superfund site is actually a good thing because if they can’t get an extremely viable Fortune 500 company on the hook to pay for it, the EPA will.” 

Winter Springs annexed a former printing company property along U.S. Highway 17/92. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

But the cleanup-process timeline remains in question, which triggered an unusual second round of negotiations as Johnson and Commissioner Matt Benton pleaded to stop the annexation until after the site was cleaned up. Arguing in favor of the annexation, Commissioner Cade Resnick said that if the site isn’t annexed now, there’s no guarantee that the site, currently in Seminole County, won’t be cleaned up and developed as a County property, preventing the city from being able to decide what type of development goes on the site. 

Responding to Benton’s request that the annexation be contingent on the developer agreeing to not build a residential building on the site, Willard said that’s not currently possible anyway. 

“In the EPA report we’re going to be required to abide by institutional controls…prohibiting residential use until the site is completely clean,” Willard said. “I can’t tell you if it’s going to be one year, two years, five years, but the entire time that the property is under any kind of reclamation it would be prohibited from any residential use whatsoever.”

“Don’t say ‘never,’” Shafer said. “And the reason I say that is [the Tuskawilla Crossings neighborhood], the front part. I lived in Avery Park when the slaughter unit was across the street, which was contaminated ground. So ‘never to say never’ is a very long time.”

After 25 minutes of discussion, the vote remained the same as an initial vote in May – 3-2 – with Benton and Johnson dissenting. The final vote cements the annexation, which will now move forward. 

Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann described the unusually protracted debate about the site “A real interesting conversation, and the process has worked.”

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