The number of pollution violations issued in Jacksonville has significantly declined since coronavirus brought everything to a screeching halt in March. But it’s not clear whether there’s actually less pollution or it’s just because routine inspections have been put on hold during the pandemic.
Still, officials who lead the environmental wing of Jacksonville’s city government say the city has maintained its ability to respond when needed, even as the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way they work.
“Our employees have been responding to environmental emergencies, environmental concerns, to some degree, citizen complaints, and issues throughout. And we'll continue to do so. It's just the staff has been reduced,” Environmental Protection Board Administrator James Richardson said.
Jacksonville’s nine-member Environmental Protection Board is the regulatory authority for environmental issues, while the city’s Environmental Quality Division carries out and enforces the rules the board establishes. It polices everything from pollution to noise.
“The board is policy, if you will. They’re essentially like the City Council for environmental issues, and the Environmental Quality Division is their operational arm,” said Richardson.
He said the division is still responding to emergency issues like sanitary sewer overflows and hazardous material spills.
That’s as non-essential work has stopped in the division, and most essential workers are working the minimum needed to do their jobs — remotely whenever possible.
Chief Melissa Long said in an email that the division has been monitoring emails and forwarding pollution issues to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection when appropriate.
At the same time EQD has not been conducting routine inspections, there have also been far fewer service requests submitted to the MyJax system.
Long said the EQD is still working through plans for reopening and will follow the guidance of Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration.
“We have a list of priority issues (not necessarily violations) that we will begin working through once inspections are started up again. The city has the MyJax system for service requests and we will work our way through the list of requests,” Long wrote.
Report an issue to the division here.