HomeEnvironmentWatergate 2.0? Satellite Beach's Secretive Session on Contamination Concerns

Watergate 2.0? Satellite Beach’s Secretive Session on Contamination Concerns

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On September 17, 2018, Satellite Beach council members Mindy Gibson, Mark Brimer, and Frank Catino convened at city hall for a public workshop with water expert Robert Bowcock, who has collaborated with renowned environmental advocate Erin Brockovich.

The workshop was organized to discuss the PFAS contamination believed to originate from Patrick Air Force Base and the concerns about a cluster of cancer cases among Satellite High graduates.

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The meeting was noted for its selectivity in attendee admission, with reports indicating that some community members, including advocates from Fight for Zero and environmental specialists, were not allowed to enter and were escorted from the city hall lobby by police. The exclusion was attributed to the meeting’s classification as “private,” as documented by South Patrick Shores activist Sandra Sullivan, who was also denied entry.

The city had canceled the meeting online shortly before its scheduled time, a change observed by resident Dale Abrahams on the city’s website. Upon visiting the city hall for clarification, she reportedly saw the enforcement of the restricted access.

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No official minutes or recordings of the meeting were maintained. Subsequent to the event, Fight for Zero claimed that the city had attempted to circumvent the Sunshine Law by rotating council members in and out of the meeting, a detail allegedly confirmed through emails obtained via public records requests. It was also suggested that the city selectively permitted attendance based on individuals’ stances on the issues.

Photographs later surfaced showing the three officials in a closed session.

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The Sunshine Law mandates that meetings on official agency business be open to the public, barring private discussions on matters that will require action by the board or commission.

The ongoing PFAS contamination issue was acknowledged to be unresolved at the time of the September 17 meeting, with future city dealings anticipated.

Subsequent city council actions included:

  • Allocating approximately $15,000 on October 3, 2018, for further groundwater PFAS testing.
  • Approving a communication to Satellite Beach residents on January 23, 2019, summarizing the results of groundwater tests.
  • Establishing legislative priorities on November 30, 2020, which encompassed water quality and PFAS legislation.

A lawsuit was filed by Jeff Dubitsky and Stel Bailey on behalf of affected citizens regarding the September 17 events. The case was dismissed by Judge George Paulk after 18 months and the dismissal was upheld on appeal without detailed justification. The City’s subsequent claim for attorneys’ fees and costs was rejected.

Despite the appellate court’s ruling, the City pursued the recovery of attorney fees, which was again denied by Judge Paulk on October 2, 2023.

On October 25, 2023, the Satellite Beach council resolved to continue seeking fees, despite the City Attorney’s reservations about the financial prudence of appealing the decisions of two judges.

Currently, Councilwoman Mindy Gibson is the sole council member from the meeting still in office. She has been observed requesting Florida legislators to shield Satellite Beach from liability concerning PFAS contamination. In contrast, the City of Titusville has engaged in a PFAS settlement to mitigate taxpayer expenses related to testing and cleanup.

The City of Satellite Beach’s financial decisions, including the pursuit of legal fees and parking enforcement measures, have prompted public discourse on fiscal responsibility and the prioritization of community health and legal accountability.

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