Public Records Raise Questions About State’s Sinkhole Response

November 16, 2016
Press Release

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After making a public records request to the State of Florida for documents about the Polk County sinkhole, and experiencing weeks of delay in receiving a response, Congresswoman Gwen Graham today said that the records which were released raise serious questions about the response of the governor’s office and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to a potential crisis.

“Unless there are records that were not produced as required by law, the disclosures show an alarming lack of communication among state regulators about a threat to the health and safety of Florida families and our environment,” said Graham. “I am very concerned that we had a watchdog agency asleep at the wheel.”

According to the records, before the sinkhole was exposed by the media, nearly all of the electronic communications regarding the incident were email exchanges between the DEP and Mosaic employees. Records from the governor’s office and DEP contained very few internal communications between state employees concerning the sinkhole before it became public. And while there were several emails from the governor’s office about Graham’s questions, there were none demonstrating concern over the sinkhole and DEP’s response or examining potential solutions to the problem.

Equally concerning was the state’s communications with its own scientists, much of which appears to be instructions on how to handle questions from constituents and the press. At least one geologist, who has spent more than 20 years working for the state, raised concerns over the lack of information: “I’m working on that facility with EPA but no one told me about it [the sinkhole]. So much for communication.”

“These public records responses indicate communication has broken down within Governor Scott’s state agencies,” Graham said. “With this kind of threat to Florida families and the environment, the governor’s office and DEP should have been ringing alarm bells and taking swift action. Nothing in these records indicates they were operating with any sense of urgency. Either we are still missing documents, or the state didn’t particularly care. Neither situation is acceptable.”

The records from the governor’s office can be found, here. Emails from DEP can be found, here. Video footage of the sinkhole found in the emails can also be viewed, here.

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