About 500 Ormond Beach residents flooded the Volusia County Council's Aug. 23 meeting about a proposed fuel depot at 874 Hull Road, unified in their opposition to the project.
Business leaders, retirees, concerned parents and neighbors all denounced the development by Belvedere Terminals Company, LLC, which seeks to construct a fuel terminal facility with 16 storage tanks and several truck loading bays. Workers would load gasoline, diesel, ethanol and biodiesel into trucks at the facility. About 160 trucks would use Harmony Road to Hull Road to reach U.S. 1 in a 24-hour period, at a rate of about seven an hour.
It's always better to have a seat at the table than to be on the menu, and I felt like we were being served on the menu with this one."
—TROY KENT, county councilman
The Ormond Beach site would be part of a $250 million multi-site fuel distribution system. The Mississippi-based company is planning more spurs in Jacksonville and Ft. Pierce.
"Belvedere’s system will offer Floridians safer, lower cost and more reliable delivery of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel," a company statement reads. "In addition, Belvedere’s delivery model will help prevent the interruption of the fuel supply chain during times of weather disasters."
But Ormond Beach residents don't want it.
A petition to stop the fuel farm project has been signed over 12,000 times.
"You were voted in to take care of your constituents, the people that put you in office," Ormond Beach resident Robin Magleora said to the council. "It's your job to keep them safe. It's your job to find a way to stop this from going in."
After about two hours of public comment, the Volusia County Council voted unanimously to direct county staff to meet with state and federal officials and Belvedere Terminals about the project, research case law for legal options, and look into whether there is other land — inside or outside of Volusia County — that would be "better suited" for a fuel farm.
"We need to have this conversation, and we need to help direct the conversation," County Councilman Troy Kent said. "It's always better to have a seat at the table than to be on the menu, and I felt like we were being served on the menu with this one."
Kent represents District 4, which includes the city of Ormond Beach. He's a resident as well.
"This location is wildly inappropriate for a fuel farm," he said. "I think all 42,000 residents of Ormond Beach are against it."
Public notice concerns
Belvedere Terminals received an air construction permit approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Aug. 1.
But residents, city officials and county officials said none of them knew the permit had been issued until weeks later.
A public notice for the air permit appeared in the Hometowns News on July 7. Such notices, according to state statute, may be printed in newspapers published at least once a week and with a readership of at least 10% of households in the county.
Resident Lindsey Pate said she and her neighbors, who live less than a half mile away from the proposed site, don't receive the Hometown News.
"We should have received mailers, just like we do with our property taxes," Pate said.
Council members expressed similar concerns about the public notice. The motion they approved — made by Councilman David Santiago — directed staff to investigate the public notice process and determine if the county could place notices on its website in accordance with House Bill 7049, a law signed by the governor last year that revised newspaper public notice requirements.
Pate pushed back against the statement that no city officials knew about the fuel farm. Ormond Beach's Site Plan Review Committee met with company representatives in June 2022 to discuss utilities and annexation, and on Aug. 1, the commission unanimously voted to create a new "Heavy Industrial" zoning district.
City staff members said at the Aug. 1 meeting that the city determined in a 2010 Comprehensive Plan Evaluation and Appraisal Report that it needed a new zoning designation, and that the designation became a necessity after the city annexed 52 acres owned by Halifax Paving at 860 Hull Road and 1399 Hull Trail.
The fuel depot, Pate said, will act in its own best interest. She asked the council to act in the residents' best interest.
"I feel like we're setting all of the pieces in place to checkmate us," Pate said. "You should find that worrisome."
No legal standing?
At an Aug. 15 meeting, the County Council told staff to look into how the county could object to FDEP's decision to grant the fuel farm an air construction permit.
Volusia has no standing to appeal the decision to the District Court of Appeal because the county did not challenge the permit before it was issued, staff found. For the same reason, Ormond Beach has not appealed the permit and is reviewing options, said Paola Soria, senior assistant county attorney.
County Council Chair Jeff Brower noted that two members of the public said they were disappointed in the council. And they should be, he added — if the council had been aware of the project.
I am working every angle to derail this project."
— TOM LEEK, Florida House representative, R-Ormond Beach
"I want to know why we don't have standing, because there was not a notification given to the county on a project that resides within our jurisdiction," Brower said.
He also asked why the city didn't tell the county that its Site Plan Review Committee met last year with company representatives on a piece of land under county jurisdiction. Belvedere also recently asked Volusia's Public Works Department to evaluate a scope of service for a comprehensive traffic impact assessment.
Volusia County Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin said that the city's committee, like the county's Technical Review staff, holds close to 400 meetings a year with entities interested in filing a site plan application. Of those, about 50% actually apply, said Ervin, who is also a former planning director for the city of Ormond Beach.
"From a matter of regular, standard operating procedures that everyone's staff is dealing with, until you actually see someone coming back, all you've been asked is, 'Can I do this?'" Ervins said. "... Here we are, over a year and two months [later], and we still haven't received the application."
Resident Karen Delisle said the proposed project is unsafe for residents of Bear Creek, Ormond Lakes, Ormond Grande, the Village of Pine Run and other communities; youths who use the sports complex and onsite playground for disabled children; and the flight schools that operate from the local airport.
She questioned Belvedere's plan to put over 160 trucks per day on the I-95 and U.S. 1 interchange, which the Florida Department of Transportation says needs a redesign to make it safer and more capable of accommodating heavy traffic. The construction phase of the $215.4 million interchange project remains unfunded.
"That is fuel-ish," Delisle said, playing off the word "foolish" to chuckles from the audience. "... A business deal made in 2006 — 17 years ago, nearly a generation — is not a good business deal in 2023."
Project 'starkly at odds' with city
Ormond Beach stated its "strong opposition" to the fuel farm in a letter to the county on Aug. 21, just days after more than 100 residents voiced objections at a commission meeting.
The letter listed the city's concerns, including the project's proximity to neighborhoods, the Ormond Beach Sports Complex and the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport; wetland and Tomoka River watershed impacts that could cause long-term health effects; and increased demand on local infrastructure and emergency services, since firefighters and hospitals (Ormond Beach has no hospitals) would need specialized training to respond to potential "hazardous situations."
"While the massive capacity and numerous storage tanks of the proposed fuel farm might align with Belvedere Terminals' business objectives, it remains starkly at odds with the well-being of our community and all of Volusia County," the letter states. "Although the promise of expedited fuel access during emergencies might appeal to some, the everyday risks and disruptions such a facility would introduce to our city make it highly incompatible with our activities of daily living."
The Civic League of the Halifax Area and the Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce both wrote letters opposing the project.
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbie Cotton told the council at the special meeting that the chamber represents 650 businesses and their employees and families in Ormond Beach. She said increased traffic on U.S. 1 could endanger pedestrians and motorists and affect businesses that rely on the U.S. 1 corridor for daily operations.
"Ormond Beach has blossomed into a hub of residential, recreational and business activities," Cotton said. "This is an undeniable threat to Ormond Beach's overall wellbeing and future growth."
Florida Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach resident, also released a statement on his Facebook page opposing to the fuel farm project. He called it "the wrong project, at the wrong time, and in the wrong location."
"As a vehement opponent of the proposed fuel terminal project in Ormond Beach, I am working every angle to derail this project," Leek said. "Additionally, I call on the leaders of the Volusia County Council to join me and make every lawful effort to stop the proposed fuel terminal project in Ormond Beach. This land is currently zoned for industrial use, but that designation was made prior to the current family friendly development in that area, including our youth sports complex."
Kent said the county needs to speak with Belvedere Terminals.
One councilman did — Jake Johansson.
Johansson said Belvedere Terminals Chief Operating Officer Mike Benedetto told him in a phone conversation that Belvedere chose the Ormond Beach site in collaboration with the secretary of Florida's Department of Commerce, which wants to make the state's fuel supply chain more resilient.
"His company was asked to come up with a plan with some possible solutions," Johansson said. "And frankly, with the way the zoning was, this was an easy target."
Benedetto, the councilman said, did not oppose an alternative plan; his company just hasn't begun that process.
The council also discussed concerns about the fuel farm's proximity to the Ormond Beach airport.
Kent commended residents for showing up at the meeting. He said he overheard County Manager George Recktenwald, who has been at the county for over 20 years, say he had never seen a line wrap around the second floor of the building's rotunda before. Residents filled the chambers and two overflow spaces in the building.
"This council has heard you," Brower said. "What you did tonight, I've never seen happen in this chamber."