PAHOKEE — The 200 S. Barfield Highway site of the once imposing, grand, four-story building formerly known as Everglades General Hospital, then Everglades Regional Medical Center — and later decried for years as an abandoned, decrepit shell where homeless people and drug users dwelled — has been abuzz with demolition workers since the weekend of Sept. 19-20.
Posted by JoAnn Culberson on Saturday, September 19, 2020
According to witnesses, initial bulldozers’ and loaders’ bites into the 40,000+-square-foot structure resulted in clouds of dust Sept. 19 and 20 (both windy days) that enveloped Barfield Highway and neighboring properties. That dust was and is suspected to contain asbestos, and the situation has been reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Departments of Health and Environmental Protection, other sources said.
That’s because neighbors say no asbestos or even dust mitigation measures apparently have been or are being taken, while the ex-hospital, a decades-old building, sits near a nursing home, a funeral parlor and residential neighborhoods.
The demolition is still ongoing. Neighbors including a former Pahokee mayor, however, question whether and how it can be completed now that it’s begun.
The City of Pahokee, stated former three-term Mayor J.P. Sasser (who owns property abutting the hospital site), received a Palm Beach County grant of $300,000 for the demolition through the advocacy of District 6 County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Sasser posted on the Facebook page Pahokee Can: “This money is to cover NOT only the demo but preparing the site for an apparently very secret deal with a developer to build “farm worker” housing. NO ONE HAS SEEN THE PLANS! What about zoning issues? It cost over $350,000 to tear down the old city hall and $300,000-plus to tear down the old water plant. The hospital is larger than BOTH of these sites. So how are they going to pull off the site preparation?”
Further, he wrote: “The demo has started with huge amounts of dust blowing over the residential neighborhood. NO water spraying to keep the dust down. Did they even do an asbestos abatement? Remember, this is also adjacent to a nursing home. There is NOT enough room on this site to build much of anything because it has to be elevated to meet the new flood requirements and construct a retention pond.”
Robert Lambert, managing partner of Everglades Reserve Holdings LLC — the firm that has a state-approved contract to take over the city-leased marina, campground and restaurant, but which a Pahokee City Commission majority recently spurned as a future partner said: “We think it’s full of asbestos and we’ve seen no signs of any remediation being done prior to the demolition. The county got this $300,000 grant to tear it down, which is a ridiculously cheap amount for a building that is 60,000-some square feet.”
Regarding the potentially hazardous emission of asbestos particulates inside the dust, Lambert said, “I know the EPA is getting involved, the DEP has been called, and they’re getting involved.”
City Commissioner Regina Bohlen, also expressed her worries about the work. “I’m concerned about the demolition of the old hospital. I don’t see any water trucks there for the dust. They were tearing it down over the weekend. I personally went off the road — the dust flew up in front of my car. There were people standing out in front in the street waiting their turn to get into the funeral home. There are elderly people that are in the nursing home next door, who sit out on the patio. To me, that’s a concern,” she stated.
“The demolition came before the city commission for approval, and I asked how they were going to tear down a building four times as large (for less). I made sure the contract said there were no change orders allowed,” Bohlen added.
She promised to bring up the topic at the commission meeting that was scheduled for that evening. “It’s not on the agenda, but I will address it.”
For more on the history of the building online, see www.abandonedfl.com/everglades-regional-medical-center/.