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At the 20 June 2022 meeting of the Gulfport Planning Commission (GPC), seven commission members listened for hours to citizens living near or adjacent to the former Great Southern Golf Course voice their concerns about Arbor’s development in a jammed-packed room. The GPC refused to table approval of Arbor’s plan without requiring the citizens’ demands that Arbor meet Mississippi Department of Environment Quality (MDEQ) and Environment Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines to test the soil for toxins. The GPC) members proceeded with a 4-3 vote to approve Arbor’s general plan devoid of concern for the Health, Safety, and Welfare of its own Gulfport citizens. The Gulfport Code of Ordinances, Ch. 9 SUBDIVISIONS (Item 9-48) states that “the general subdivision plan . . . shall be reviewed by the planning commission and will be referred for review and report to the city engineer [and] the county health officer . . . .” A Freedom of Information request by citizens showed the city engineer made no comment, and no report from the county health officer was read into the planning commission’s record.
After filing an appeal of the Commission’s approval vote with the Gulfport City Council and while waiting for a date to be put on the city council’s agenda, citizens requested help from (MDEQ). Testimony was provided by the citizens to MDEQ that the soil on the golf course had been treated for years with now-banned chemicals such as MSMA, Toxaphene, and Chlordane and that the whole course contains several hundred feet of a buried irrigation system that is laced with asbestos. Over time the chemicals present bind with other elements to form an inorganic arsenic that is extremely toxic. These arsencis are classified as a heave metal, which forms a hard curst approximately two to three feet below the surface and usually pose no threat to the environment or public health until the soil is disturbed through digging or excavation.
The concern of citizens living near the golf course is that once the developer begins digging and disturbing the soil, this inorganic arsenic will be unearthed and introduced back into the environment causing contamination at toxic levels to ground water, surface water, and the air. Such exposure can be detrimental to the health of the construction workers and thousands of nearby residents, particularly children whose developing brains and bodies are extremely susceptible to chemical toxicity.
After the outcry of the citizens living near the golf course about the health risks of contaminated soil, the Arbor developer hired a firm to test the soil, and all soil samples came back positive for contamination. The environmental firm has recommended additional assessment to determine the extent of contamination of pesticides and herbicides, specifically gamma-Chlordane and Dieldrin, and determine the extent of RCRA Metals, specifically Arsenic on the former golf course property.