Rick Scott Appoints Businessman With History of Everglades Pollution to Board That's Supposed to Keep It Safe

Categories: Politics
incinerator1.jpg
Smokestacks similar to this one spewed some nasty stuff under Portuondo's reign at Montenay.
If there was any question whether Florida Gov. Rick Scott favored business over the environment, this week he ended the debate. Scott appointed a businessman with a history of environmental problems to oversee the board that's supposed to protect South Florida's water supply and wetlands from pollution.

Juan Portuondo, if confirmed by the Florida Senate, will be the newest board member of the South Florida Water Management District. He will represent Miami-Dade County, where he once ran a trash incinerator known for its mercury, water, and air pollution.

Just how bad is Portuondo's environmental history? Greenpeace once labeled the incinerator he ran a "major source of mercury emissions" and said he was responsible "for much of the contamination in the Everglades."

That's right, a man once allegedly responsible for much of the Everglades contamination is
now serving on a board that's supposed to keep wetlands safe.

Portuondo, a 67-year-old Key Biscayne resident, didn't return phone calls to his home and the water management district office. But his background is spelled out in news stories going back to the early 1990s, when he left a job as technical services administrator for the City of Miami.

The job he took was president of Montenay Power Corp., which ran the county-owned trash incinerator plant at 6990 NW 97th Ave. in Miami. Florida Department of Environmental Regulation inspections back then didn't go well -- one inspector had to flee the plant because the smell was making him sick. Then a tour by Department of Environmental Regulation top brass was cut short when a fire raged out of control.

Environmental and safety problems at Montenay piled up over the years, according to a series of Miami Herald reports from the time. Smokestacks billowed heavy metal contaminants into the air. Rainwater soaked with trash ran underground. A worker was electrocuted and another burned by a fireball. All that pollution earned Montenay a record $640,000 fine in 1991 from the Department of Environmental Regulation.

In response, Portuondo continued to defend his company, saying it has spent millions to make things better, even though those fixes apparently hadn't quelled the pollution. "We've gone from zero to nine on a scale of ten," Portuondo told the Herald in 1991.

Despite those problems, Portuondo continued to lobby county leaders to expand the plant's capacity by 40 percent. To help the lobbying efforts, Montenay gave tens of thousands of dollars to a foundation run by popular South Florida environmentalist Edmund Benson. In exchange, Benson lobbied the county in 1993 to keep a school off property near the incinerator plant, meaning the plant would be free to expand.

In 2005, the Herald mentioned Portuondo as a former official at Montenay. The article cites a report issued by the county's inspector general about problems with the county's solid waste department. One of those problems included Portuondo receiving a $68,000 contract to inspect the Montenay plant for the county, even while he still collected a paycheck as a lobbyist for his former company.

It's unclear when Portuondo left Montenay. A spokeswoman for Veolia Environmental Services, which now owns Montenay, didn't return a phone call. A South Florida Water Management District spokesman said his office was waiting for the governor to send an official bio of Portuondo. Scott's brief written announcement about the appointment of Portuondo said he was the president of IP Group Inc., which, according to state records, went out of business last year.

Lane Wright, the governor's press secretary, offered up a simple explanation for why Portuondo was picked. "Gov. Scott feels he was the best qualified for the job. That's it. Period," he said. When asked about Portuondo's long history of environmental problems, Wright said he "wanted to emphasize" that Portuondo was picked because he was the most qualified.

With all this mystery about what Portuondo is doing now, perhaps it'd be better to look back to 1991, when Department of Environmental Regulation specialist Carol Meeds spoke to the Herald about the plant Portuondo ran: "People who live near this plant should be concerned."

Now that Portuondo's on the water management board, perhaps anyone who cares about the environment in South Florida should also be concerned.


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6 comments
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Carlos1221
Carlos1221

A government run by business id fascism.

Music4800
Music4800

No. A government run by business may be many things, but fascism isn't one of them. Fascism is/was a form of socialism advocated by Mussolini and Hitler.  What distinguished it from Soviet-style socialism was its focus on nationalism.  It remained, however, a form of governance wherein the means of production were controlled by the state, not the other way around.

Fascism is, and was, a totalitarian form of government.  Perhaps this is what you actually meant?  I suppose that it is possible that business interests could so overwhelm our government that they could dictate a totalitarian solution to their concerns.  However, it is nothing but hyperbole on your part to make this assertion on the basis one guy being appointed to a citizen board if, indeed, this is what you meant. I'm only surprised that you didn't ignorantly compare Governor Scott to Hitler.  Perhaps you're saving that "clever" jibe for later?

Jackie Brouillette
Jackie Brouillette

This is soooooo silly..back then there were many problems, and if he, or rather his COMPANY was fined, and got things rectified, than he has a fairly good knowledge of what NOT to do, andhow!  Give the guy a chance..you crazy libs are always jumping the gun. Take a chill pill!

TrojanMan
TrojanMan

At what point can criminal charges be brought against this P.O.S.?

Warren
Warren

Drug testing for Governor Scott? The good of our state is foremost in the mind of our elected chief executive, Florida Governor Rick Scott.He worries about us 24 hours a day.Several days ago he signed into law a bill calling for Florida residents receiving benefits from the state to be tested for drugs.That’s the kind of four-square guy Rick Scott is. He is not going to let those kinds of people squander money on drugs, food or that kind of irrelevant and foolish stuff.Test positive and your check is gone. Kaput. On the other hand if you’re drug free you won’t have to pay for the tests. It will be FREE.That’s the kind of guy our governor is.***His hospital company, Columbia HCA, was barely fined $1.7 billion for Medicare and Medicaid fraud so, quite naturally, he signed a bill calling for drug tests for Florida residents receiving state benefits.Of course others were to blame for the fines.Of course.Still, as a ringing declaration of faith that he really is a man of the people it would be wonderful to see him participate in the drug-testing process.He could even use the Governor’s mansion to provide his little cup – although others would check on the validity of his gift.State citizens would knock on the door every thirty seconds to simply speed up the process.As with those who receive state benefits Governor Scott, simply by proving he is drug-free, would continue to receive his salary, expense account and state trooper protection.As somebody once said, “Let’s get to work.” warrenlanger@att.netStill Liberal at 83

Still recovering from Open Heart surgeryLong ago TBF Avenger radio-gunner 

Gator
Gator

This should surprise no one -- Scott has no respect for Florida and its residents.  How far we have fallen from the days of Reuben Askew and Bob Graham.

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