Marco resident takes on federal government, wins records lawsuit

Marco resident and business owner Shannon Cain explains how the septic tank turned rain water cistern works, while proud owner Mario Sanchez, Councilman Frank Recker and Councilman-elect Joe Batte look on just prior to a city inspection Friday.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff

Marco resident and business owner Shannon Cain explains how the septic tank turned rain water cistern works, while proud owner Mario Sanchez, Councilman Frank Recker and Councilman-elect Joe Batte look on just prior to a city inspection Friday.

— It’s no small task for a man without a law degree to take a federal agency to court and claim victory. However, that’s just what computer science professor Mario Sanchez did.

Sanchez spent years seeking information regarding the handling of toxic substances in Marco Island.

The Marco resident had little success until he filed a complaint, representing himself, against the Environmental Protection Agency last Sept. 18. The complaint contended the EPA violated the federal Freedom of Information Act by not providing documents pertaining to an investigation of effluent pumped into waterways and mishandled asbestos.

When Sanchez received the documentation that he sought, he agreed to drop the case in early August.

“I feel I won,” Sanchez said. “Because it was such a horrifying experience for me to be a non-attorney, just a regular Joe Blow, who went up against the U.S. government.”

The request was for all EPA documentation related to Marco Island from 2005 through July, 31, 2008.

His complaint asserted that effluent containing hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid and sediment was pumped untreated into waterways, streets, swales and sidewalks. Also, according to the document, hydrogen sulfide gas was released into the air. This caused several residents and at least two city workers to seek medical treatment, officials have since confirmed.

Initially, the EPA denied these allegations in its defense filed with the U.S. District Court in Fort Myers.

However, the EPA did follow through on asbestos mishandling in March, alleging that the city and its contractor, Quality Enterprises, violated six sections of the Clean Air Act as early as March 2005 until as late as November 2008 while the city undertook road widening and adding sewer lines to Collier Boulevard.

Contentious contamination issue unearthed again on Marco. Photo taken by Marco officials in 2006 shows crushed cement on what is now called Veterans' Community Park on Elkcam Circle. Crushed asbestos and other debris kept popping back up on the site between 2005 and 2007 even after officials said the toxic materials were properly disposed. The issue lasted years and many city officials thought it was over until Marco resident Mario Sanchez filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency in mid-September alleging the EPA did not disclose all information as required by the Freedom of Information Act.

Submitted City of Marco Island

Contentious contamination issue unearthed again on Marco. Photo taken by Marco officials in 2006 shows crushed cement on what is now called Veterans' Community Park on Elkcam Circle. Crushed asbestos and other debris kept popping back up on the site between 2005 and 2007 even after officials said the toxic materials were properly disposed. The issue lasted years and many city officials thought it was over until Marco resident Mario Sanchez filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency in mid-September alleging the EPA did not disclose all information as required by the Freedom of Information Act.

“That, to me, was a great satisfaction, proving we weren’t crazy. The city was in fact polluting our environment,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez and other residents of the time, including Godfrey Davies, were providing evidence to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA to no avail.

Davies, who later moved to Kirklin, Ind., in 2008, provided time-stamped video and other evidence indicating what he believed to be violations of the Clean Air Act as well as violations of the Clean Water Act.

The city and Quality Enterprises settled with the EPA in lieu of formal enforcement for Clean Air Act violations. Fines as high as $37,500 per day were averted when Quality Enterprises agreed to pay $81,772 total in the June settlement agreement.

So far, nothing has come of the Clean Water Act investigations.

The relationship between the state and federal agencies may be the cause for that, Sanchez said.

The EPA enforces the Clean Air Act and DEP is responsible for investigating Clean Water Act violations. The EPA relies on DEP’s Clean Water Act investigations, and, in this case, DEP dismissed the evidence provided by citizens, Sanchez said.

“The citizens were denigrated beyond redemption,” he said.

Christine Harrison, Special To The Eagle
Marco Island resident Dr. Mario Sanchez's own septic tank to cistern conversion is about halfway complete. Rainwater runs through sealed downspouts, which connect to pipes leading to the cistern. The water is then sucked through valves, directly into Sanchez's irrigation system.

Christine Harrison, Special To The Eagle Marco Island resident Dr. Mario Sanchez's own septic tank to cistern conversion is about halfway complete. Rainwater runs through sealed downspouts, which connect to pipes leading to the cistern. The water is then sucked through valves, directly into Sanchez's irrigation system.

The EPA declined to answer questions from the Daily News, referring inquiries to the U.S. Department of Justice. Questions for comments were sent to a Justice spokesman, but so far the Daily News hasn’t received responses.

Nearly 1,000 pages of records were obtained since the Freedom of Information Act filing and are posted to Sanchez’s website, marcoislandblog.blogspot.com. They indicated that several environmental crimes, as first reported by Sanchez and other residents, were substantiated.

DEP official Michael Tanski, in an e-mail dated Aug. 24, 2007, to Alenda Johnson of the EPA, denied that any environmental wrongdoing was taking place on Marco Island and wrote that the residents were making up the allegations of Clean Water Act violations.

“The residents are trying to do whatever they can to disrupt the extension of the sewer lines to the area, and from the department’s view, there are no violations being generated from the construction activities,” Tanski wrote.

However, an e-mail dated earlier the same day to Tanksi contradicted his statement.

“The effluent was originally deposited into the swales, but in some areas, H2S (hydrogen sulfide) levels were easily detectable and raised concern for health issues,” wrote DEP employee Jon Iglehart.

Davies first sent his videos and other evidence to the DEP, but when he wasn’t getting responses, he began taking his evidence to the EPA.

“Mario and I took it to the highest levels we could and they still dropped the ball,” Davies said.

If the recently obtained records had been provided earlier, Sanchez said he would have sued the EPA to require it take enforcement action against city and DEP employees.

“It did take time and that was a winning strategy (for them),” Sanchez said. “The damage was already done. It’s sad that the people can get away with it.”

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 25

dc5799 writes:

Thank you Dr Sanchez. No one else would have persevered as you did. There are many of us on the Island who appreciate how much you care.
Keep up the good work and never give up.

blogsmog writes:

monte lazarus ex-president of the Marco Island chamber of commerce called Sanchez and Davies, 'CAVE Dwellers' along with the hundreds of others who gave their all to protect our paradise.
These men were ridiculed and ostrisized by the powers to be on Marco at that time. Thank God for these guys and the Ed Fosters and the Roger Halls etc....
A public apology is in order from the MI chamber of commerce(their officers from 2005 to present) to all they offened and insulted when they became the 'enforcer' goon arm of the 'Aceri' local gov't.

happy34145 writes:

Great work Mario. I know this was not easy and probably very frustrating this whole time. This just proves how much we were lied to and how our city representatives like John Arceri, Moss, Tucker, Minnozi and Trotter had agendas and it had nothing to do with the preservation of the environment. They repeatedly lied to us and tried to hush and belittle those who questioned them and now we know why.

ajm3s writes:

Mario et al. are great examples of Americans that will not be silenced. This case provides a glimpse into the push back that large governmental agencies can engage to defend their positions.

The pursuit of truth needs to be preserved in this great country. And it is the responsibility of all citizens to speak up when they feel they have been wronged, whether real or imaginary.

We should all be wary of those who refuse to provide documents under the guise of 'classified" or dismiss folks by intimidation. These should serve as indicators that the truth is near but has not been revealed.

And shame on those who especially engaged in intimidation tactics, including those of councils past.

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty" TJ.

Fossil writes:

This entire incident was avoidable the day Dr. Foster expressed concern of asbestos presence on Collier Blvd. If only those elected to represent us would have taken heed, listened to him and the experts he hosted rather then the Commercial interests and incompetant city employees. This exercise of discovery by Dr. Sanchez, reveals the damage brought to us by incompetent contractors, incompetent public employees, easily enfluenced politicians, developers and two goal oriented City Managers. The same can be said for the first meeting Dr. Foster held regarding the proposal for the STRP. The released documents expose our elected officials as contempful towards anyone who brought them bad news or told them things contrary to what local businessmen or city employees were telling them. Today, we have a public works project from hades that threatens to overflow during the first large storm enduced high tide and a public park that contains contaminated harmful material below it's surface. Reputations, careers and trust in private and public institutions were damaged during this era. Our community was deliberatly polarized by the supporters of these projects. The Chamber of Commerce joined battle against homeowners and permanent residents. They allied themselves then and continue to do so today, with Corporate hotels and condo associations to squeeze revenue form the homeowners. Journalists were intimidated and fired for reporting what they honestly believed to be the truth. A truth that is now validated by the documentation Dr. Sanchez has successfully obtained. Community leaders were permanently damaged and public employees were let go. Thank you Dr. Sanchez, Dr. Foster and all those CAVE dwellers for finally turning on the lights. Let this era be a lesson to our current leaders and to the citizens who depend upon them to keep us safe from ourselves. Hopefully our leaders will now look with caution and extra scrutiny, whenever commercial or special interests offer free advice.

jwputnam writes:

Gentlemen: I don't remember any of you speaking up for Dr. Sanchez at any time in the past....especially when he ran for school board.

And Fossil, Foster does not have a doctorate.

Rony Joel stills works for the city, the lying, theaving %^&^%. Nothing has changed. Nobody cares, especially not our sanctimonious councilman.

When I meet with them, they tell me that I don't get the big picture. Batte tells me that he has to be political and not point any fingers or name any names so that the rest won't gang up on him when "something important" comes along. Recker constantly tells me to be "patient". Well....I am now patiently awaiting my 20% tax increase, an unecessary $20,000 sewer line assessment and UNBELIEVABLE new utility bills. All of this from people who have now been PROVEN to have lied to us continually......as some of you have DEFENDED them. SICK!

This City reeks of waste (figuratively AND literally)! We NEED a revolution. How about another recall?

PS If you have any doubt whatsoever as to the integrity of our current council, simply review how they treated the utility board. The board made the mistake of telling them what their constituency did NOT want to hear. THROW THESE BUMS OUT!

happyhorowitz34145 writes:

Thank you Dr. Sanchez.
You've showed us and others that you can fight city hall and win.
To my fellow bloggers, it is nice to see no bickering or name calling directed at each other for once, and find us all in agreement.
Mr.Putnam, you sir you are so right,(especially now that we've seen one man stand up to big government) we need a revolution. We need to start with these lying,schemeing, backstabbing, inept people that we call our city council, and then clean house (Joel, Murphy, and etc.) entirely.
Mr. Putnam, as your namesake did before you in the Revolutionary War, take charge and start to lead us forward in this fight to rid us of this tyranny.

jwputnam writes:

hahaha. Well, believe it or not, General Israel Putnam is in my family tree......someplace or other...or so I was told by my uncle.

I am giving it some thought. Where to begin?

happyhorowitz34145 writes:

in response to jwputnam:

hahaha. Well, believe it or not, General Israel Putnam is in my family tree......someplace or other...or so I was told by my uncle.

I am giving it some thought. Where to begin?

Let us start right here with our leaders that run Glenn Tucker (City) Hall.

blogsmog writes:

JWPutnam...what the??? 'we didn't show any support for Sanchez in the past?' ....'Fossil, Foster doesn't have a doctorate'???
JW don't get too full of yourself, your belittling comments are putting down a lot of folks(whether they even know who Sanchez was or not) who have given more than enough in fighting this corrupt Marco mafia machine.
Congrats on being the only one on backing Sanchez in the past and thank you from the bottom our our hearts for pointing out that Foster does not his doctorate.. now can we get back to taking back our paradise?

blogsmog writes:

p.s. Mr. Sanchez thank you for all your hard work and for your love of the United States Constitution, you have used it like its creators had envisioned!
God bless.

jwputnam writes:

Ed Foster is my good friend. I assure you that he does not have a doctorate. He could have. He elected not to. He makes no claim of having a doctorate and I am sure that it embarasses him to continue to be called "Doctor Foster". Not a big deal. Just making a simple correction so that people do not continue to embarass themselves. That's all.

Ocram (Inactive) writes:

Congratulations to an honest, conscientious individual with the integrety to "take on" the Feds and City Hall. Bravo to Mr. Mario Sanchez!!

blogsmog writes:

in response to islandeye1#236971:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

We're never in the same room at the same time...if thats what you mean.

fondulus writes:

Congrats. This isn't the only issue City Councilors are pooh-poohing that is in fact the real deal. Remember the issue the Dayton's raised about COMI not having a licensed Building Official in early 2001? It's true! It's gonna hit the fan soon and many structures are affected.

ajm3s writes:

in response to Klabautermann:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Agreed.

jwputnam writes:

Joel's continued employment by the City of Marco Island is an insult to any honest taxpaying citizen.

Where is your leadership now, Dr. Recker. You seem to be able to "move" the Manager at will. Why not now? What could possibly be your reasoning? (I know, at east Hitler build the autoban, right?)

Fossil writes:

"Mr." Foster: Please forgive me for embarrassing you. Where did I ever get the idea you had a Phd? Mr. Putnam, let's stay focused here. I along with many Marco Islander's actually contributed to Dr. Sanchez's blog *under our real names. I have been blogging in the Eagle and directed and supported links to Dr. Sanchez's blog. I have also referred current and former Councilmembers to his blog when it was active. I support Dr. Sanchez and all his current and past efforts on behalf of our community. I submit this not to toot my own horn but to fill a void you have exposed/

jwputnam writes:

When you have the guts to use your REAL name in these comment sections, let us all know. Until then, who really cares what some silly fool has to say? I don't.

Fossil writes:

Mr. Putnam: A coward is someone that fear's retribution or personal harm from others. I go the extra mile to not be personal and I try to be civil. Fossil is simply a plume de guerre. As for using my real name, I do on occassion, but always in other media. Look around, few people chose to use their real names in this media, that's not the way this game is normally played. Not on this site or others like it. I have been fighting our local government for many years and have found that Fossil and many other names I use, insulate my neighbors from what I write. I write as Fossil as a courtesy and not because I am afraid of anything. I speak to you on occassion and you know who I am. I understand where you are coming from and respect your personal choice to use your own name. Fossil is much nicer then I am, be glad. As to Klaub's comments, Fossil is never deliberatly rude and tries realy hard not to call others names.

jwputnam writes:

in response to Fossil:

Mr. Putnam: A coward is someone that fear's retribution or personal harm from others. I go the extra mile to not be personal and I try to be civil. Fossil is simply a plume de guerre. As for using my real name, I do on occassion, but always in other media. Look around, few people chose to use their real names in this media, that's not the way this game is normally played. Not on this site or others like it. I have been fighting our local government for many years and have found that Fossil and many other names I use, insulate my neighbors from what I write. I write as Fossil as a courtesy and not because I am afraid of anything. I speak to you on occassion and you know who I am. I understand where you are coming from and respect your personal choice to use your own name. Fossil is much nicer then I am, be glad. As to Klaub's comments, Fossil is never deliberatly rude and tries realy hard not to call others names.

Give me a break. Insulating your neighbors? BS!!!! More like insulating yourself. Not just you, but ALL who are afraid to identify themselves. Your lack of courage is EXACTLY what has taken us all to where we are today.

And incidentally, I don't have any socialist friends and YOU are borderline. That's enough for now. I won't be back for awhile.

Oh...and no, I am nice...just intolerant.

blogsmog writes:

these blogs seem to fade into the surreal at times...cue rod serling....

Fossil writes:

John Putnam: Yes, you are intolerant. As for your not having Socialist friends, that is likely true. Few true Socialists live in the United States much less Florida. On the other hand, I'll bet you have many friends in Minnesota and Florida that benefit from socialist government programs. There are also many companies and firms that receive social welfare in the form of tax credits and benefits. Some are even bailed out, like banks and heavy industry. By the way, when you are eligiable to benefit from our so called "socialist" programs, don't take the money. Be brave and stand up for your convictions. Even if at some point you believe you are entitled to benefits because you paid into the system. Don't weaken and apply for it. If the government offers you anything at all, send the money back. Be brave John, stand up for your convictions, encourage your friends and family members to do as you do. I will always respect your opinion, stand beside you and defend your right to those opinions. Oh, I'll even still consider you a friend.

ajm3s writes:

JWP: Were all those that contributed to the Federalist papers, cowards as well since they signed there papers as Publius.

I believe you are promoting aggrandizement. To call those who do not use their real names in a blog as cowards is a narrow minded view of INTOLERANCE.

Do you want to raise the discussion from "name" calling to "real name" calling. Will a "real" name change the discussion?

blogsmog writes:

Klaub, could you please write in German, I believe we would understand your blogs better.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features