Official: Shooting death no factor in permit denial

Official: Shooting death no factor in permit denial(Florida) — A former state Cabinet aide disputed key testimony by an Anderson Columbia Co. lobbyist that a hunting accident was a factor in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s denial of a permit for a cement plant.Colleen Castille, who was an environmental aide to Gov. Jeb Bush when the permit was denied in 1999, testified Tuesday that she did not recall ever asking Anderson Columbia lobbyist Jim Eaton about the 1988 deer- hunting accident in which Anderson Columbia founder and former chairman Joe Anderson Jr. shot and killed Ira Anderson, his wife of seven months.Eaton offered testimony last week linking a 1998 Pensacola News Journal article that included information on the hunting accident to the DEP’s denial of the permit for Anderson Columbia affiliate Suwannee American Cement Co. to build the plant on the Ichetucknee River in Central Florida.Anderson, 63, is suing the News Journal and parent Gannett Co. for “billions” over former reporter Amie Streater’s article, which he claims depicts him as a murderer and caused the DEP to deny the permit. Streater is now employed by the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas.The road paver bases his claim on the content of the first sentence about the death in Dixie County, which states Anderson “shot and killed” his wife. Two sentences later, the article states that the shooting was an accident.The News Journal opened its defense on Tuesday after a three- day break. Lawyers for Anderson completed the plaintiff’s case last Friday after four days of testimony.The newspaper, pointing out that even Anderson concedes the story was factually correct, says it did not imply the death was intentional.DEP Secretary David Struhs also testified by videotape last week that he denied the permit solely because of Anderson Columbia’s poor environmental record. He said the same thing in a news release at the time of the denial.Eaton, who has worked for Anderson Columbia since 1994, disputed the accounts of both Struhs and Castille.Testifying last Wednesday, Eaton said he had a face-to-face meeting in which Struhs opened a notebook containing a five-day News Journal series about Anderson Columbia and questioned him specifically about the article on the hunting accident.”He asked me if Joe Anderson had murdered his wife and had it covered up,” Eaton testified.Eaton also recalled a meeting with Castille, saying she leafed through a number of News Journal articles.He said she stopped at the article mentioning the shooting and asked: “Did Joe Anderson shoot and kill his wife?”Castille, testifying via videotape, said she did not recall any discussion about the shooting during a meeting with Eaton a week before the permit was denied. Nor, she said, do her notes from the meeting reflect any such discussion.Rather, she testified, her recollection and her notes reflect only that she discussed Anderson Columbia’s history of environmental violations.She said she did not have time to read many newspaper articles.Company’s record citedThree other defense witnesses also testified Tuesday that Anderson Columbia’s problems revolved around its workmanship or environmental record.Former Escambia County Engineer Cindy Anderson, who is not related to the plaintiff, said she recommended Anderson Columbia be suspended from a county bid list for road pavers in 1998 after extensive problems surface with the Tung Oil Road project in the north end of the county.She said Anderson Columbia took 2 times longer than planned, and the delays could not be solely attributed to rainy weather. She also said the project supervisor often was inaccessible, and workers were off the job for days at a time.The county found portions of the road that were too wavy or where the asphalt was too thin. The company eventually corrected those problems, pursuant to its contract.Cindy Anderson, who now heads TEAM Santa Rosa, the county’s economic-development arm, said she no longer has problems with Anderson Columbia and is eager for the company to work in Santa Rosa County.She attributed the improvement to a change in supervision after the Tung Oil project.Anderson also said reporter Streater did not appear to be trying to cast Anderson or his company in a negative light as she gathered information for her stories.”She wanted the facts,”‘ Anderson testified.Former DEP employee Cliff Rohlke and DEP marine biologist Glenn Butts testified about Anderson Columbia’s poor environmental performance while it was building and operating an asphalt plant on the Blackwater River near Bagdad.Rohlke said the company used heavy equipment to clear out wetlands and cut down trees, all without a permit. He also said barges, not owned by Anderson Columbia but operating at the site, dumped gravel, which damaged sea grasses.Butts said there were far fewer marine organisms at a DEP test site near the project than at a nearby control site.Anderson’s lawyers elicited testimony from both Rohlke and Butts that there had been other industrial sites on the Blackwater and at the asphalt plant site for at least a century.They said they could not say with certainty what role Anderson Columbia had in the environmental damage.”I don’t believe anyone is blaming Mr. Anderson for all the environmental damage that was found at the site,” Butts testified.Editor on videotape Teresa Wasson, the News Journal’s executive editor at the time the article was written, defended it as objective.”It doesn’t leave me with a positive or negative impression of Anderson Columbia,” she said in videotaped testimony.Wasson, who left the News Journal in 1999, was questioned about why the information on the hunting accident was included in the article, which mainly concerned Anderson’s political influence and political contributions.She said the hunting accident was relevant because of its relationship to Anderson’s previous guilty plea to bribing Hillsborough County commissioners and his three-year sentence of probation.He violated probation by using a firearm. So, after the hunting accident, two years were added to his probation.Wasson said the information about the hunting accident “explains the incident that led to probation being extended.”On another matter, Circuit Judge Michael Jones agreed to the newspaper’s request to allow the six-member jury to read the News Journal’s entire five-day series on Anderson Columbia. Anderson’s lawyers wanted the jury to read only the story at issue.Anderson Columbia and Anderson initially sued over the entire series. However, the majority of their lawsuit was dismissed, in large part because the statute of limitations had expired.

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