Fuel farm finger-pointing: Citizens criticize Ormond for 2022 staff meeting with Belvedere representatives

City attorney defends planning staff, affirms Ormond Beach is committed to fighting the fuel farm project — which is under county jurisdiction — every step of the way.

Belvedere Terminals seeks to build a 16-tank fuel farm at 874 Hull Road in Ormond Beach. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
Belvedere Terminals seeks to build a 16-tank fuel farm at 874 Hull Road in Ormond Beach. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
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The citizen pushback against the proposed fuel terminal in Ormond Beach continues, with some accusing the city of not being transparent about a Site Plan Review Committee meeting attended by Belvedere Terminals representatives in June 2022.

"That meeting involved conversations about traffic, things like that — no mention whatsoever about the fact that this is ... a very inappropriate area for such a fuel farm," said citizen Elena Kraft during a City Commission meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 6. "... So this is why I feel betrayed."

Kraft was one of 17 people who spoke at the commission meeting, though the chambers were at standing-room only, with additional residents sat out in the building's atrium, which was used as overflow space.

The city of Ormond Beach and its officials have voiced opposition to Belvedere's fuel farm proposal for 874 Hull Road since the community became aware that the Mississippi-based company had gained approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for an air construction permit. Since then, the city has sent letters of opposition to the Volusia County Council, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Congressman Michael Waltz, FDEP, the Volusia County Legislative Delegation and Belvedere.

There is no conspiracy between the city and Belvedere to hide the fuel farm project from the public, City Attorney Randy Hayes said at the commission meeting following some heated comments from citizens accusing commissioners and city planning staff of shady practices.

"There was no nefarious conduct by your city planning staff, none whatsoever," Hayes said. "Your planning director? You've had a lot of good ones in this city. He's by far one of the finest ones you've ever had and I will stand with him through thick and thin on this issue and other issues, and that's going to be unwavering."

What happened in 2022

On June 22, 2022, City Planning Director Steven Spraker, Economic Development Director Brian Rademacher and other planning staff that form the Site Plan Review Committee met with representatives from Belvedere Terminals, three of whom were on Zoom, for approximately 36 minutes, according to the meeting's minutes.

The representatives told the city that the property they planned to develop was located in Volusia County. They spoke about a "fuel terminal for storage and disbursement for rail fed gasoline and diesel fuel with the intention to fill trucks, offering an alternative way to get fuel expedited to the market, especially in emergency situations such as hurricanes," the minutes state.

They discussed a proposed truck route from Harmony Road to Hull Road to reach U.S. 1. The construction of two small buildings and a service road.

They also mentioned the terminal would see about seven trucks an hour in a 24-hour cycle, for an average of over 160 trucks.

Staff told them that connections to city utilities require annexation, that the county would require a traffic analysis. There was discussion about concerns regarding truck traffic on the local roads.

Staff also said the city would need to create an I-2 Heavy Industrial zoning district to provide Belvedere with a compatible city zoning use, should it annex into the city. This is because the city's current I-1 Light Industrial zoning district is more stringent than the property's current Heavy Industrial Volusia County zoning, which does allow for a fuel terminal.

The city has a legal obligation to give properties a similar land use and zoning when annexed, Hayes explained. The I-2 had never been implemented, though it was identified as a future need in a 2010 Comprehensive Plan Evaluation and Appraisal Report (the Observer has submitted a public records request for the report).

The I-2 zoning district was finally added to the city's Land Development Code when it annexed 52 acres owned by Halifax Paving at 860 Hull Road and 1399 Hull Trail — because the property had the county's Heavy Industrial zoning and land use.

"[Residents] want the facts, right? But this is really complicated stuff," Hayes said. "There's no finger-pointing here. The fact remains, it's in the county. The county knows that. The county staff knows that, and they do have concerns."

Belvedere representatives spoke with county planning staff first, Hayes said, because the county will be the ones to review a site plan application when one is submitted. An application has not been submitted yet.

Then, because Belvedere will need utilities from the city, county staff told the representatives to speak with the city planning department, Hayes said. That's how the representatives ended up speaking with city staff in that June 22, 2022 meeting.

"Those minutes were posted on our website for everybody in the world to see, which the county does not do," Hayes said. "Nothing is heard from this applicant or the county or anybody else, and nothing was known about it at a staff level until the notice was published ... for the FDEP permit, and no surprise there, because this is the easiest permit for them to get."

'Omission is betrayal'

The citizens are watching the commission's actions, said resident Rebecca Mangali. She said there was lack of opposition and concern at the Site Plan Review Committee, and criticized staff's focus on answering questions regarding utilities when she said they should have been focused on the proposed project's impact to quality of life and the environment. 

"Omission is betrayal, lies are deceit," she said. "Who shall step down from their elected seats?" 

Resident Arthur Amstrong said none of the commissioners will hold their seats next election if the fuel farm proposal moves forward. He reprimanded City Commissioner Lori Tolland, who represents Zone 1, for not attending Ormond Lakes homeowners association meetings. 

"We don't see you," he said. "You need to be there. You need to fight for us — not just sit up here and look good." 

Mayor Bill Partington then interrupted him and asked for all comments to be directed to him, saying he took offense to what was said.

"I know how hard she works for this community," he said amid shouts from the audience.

Citizen Karen Clark thanked the commission for letting residents speak about the fuel farm, calling it a "good practice round" for when they go to the next County Council meeting.

"We're not done with them," she said. "We're your army that's behind you, just remember that. Nobody wants this thing." 

Belvedere Terminals is proposing the development of a $250 million multi-site fuel distribution system that "will offer Floridians safer, lower cost and more reliable delivery of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel," according to a statement from the company. Florida is almost entirely dependent on shipping to supply its energy needs, the statement details, as it has no in-state refining capacity or interstate pipelines for the production and distribution of refined petroleum products.

"Belvedere’s system is a unique hub and spur distribution system," the company statement reads. "The hub, based in Mississippi, will load product onto trains which will travel along existing rail lines to multiple spur locations throughout Florida, investing over $250 million in capital with approximately $100 million of that total investment in Florida with over a hundred high paying, skilled jobs during operations."

City seeks a unified front

Hayes said the commission directed staff to coordinate with county staff to fight the fuel farm project every step of the way.

"And dammit, that's what we're going to do," he said.

At the meeting, the commission approved a motion to further allow staff to continue its opposition against Belvedere — by helping Volusia County in its review and analysis of the project including "analysis of the issues and harmful effects that will be created by the project"; evaluate the effect the project will have on the interlocal agreement between the city and the Volusia County School board for the utilization of the Ormond Beach Sports Complex for school-related activities; evaluate effects on the airport, including how first responders be impacted in light of an emergency; evaluate traffic issues; and retain professional and legal consultants to evaluate negative impacts. 

And to prevent future issues from blindsiding both the county and city, the motion also directed staff to speak with the county on the desire to create an interlocal agreement establishing a joint planning and municipal service area for zoning and land uses involving unincorporated lands that share a boundary with the city. 

"So with respect to the project itself, you just need to be aware that we don't have permitting authority," Hayes said to the commission. "We don't have jurisdiction, but we do have the ability to exert some influence, and we have every intention to do that."

The commission addressed the fuel farm in their closing comments of the meeting. Tolland said she appreciated the residents' passionate emails and phone calls, but that she didn't appreciate being threatened. 

She said she and her fellow commissioners worked hard to be elected because they love the city — she's raised seven children in Ormond, lives within a mile of the proposed fuel farm and spent over 20 years of her life going to the Ormond Beach Sports Complex. 

"I really resent the fact that folks think that we're not transparent and that we don't care," she said through tears. "That's just absolutely absurd. We don't do what we do because we don't care. ...Finger-pointing doesn't do a darn thing. We have to be positive. We're working together."

Commissioner Harold Briley added that applicants who meet with the Site Plan Review Committee don't necessarily follow through with an application. Sometimes they just go to the meetings, held every Wednesday, to ask questions.

"I do just want our residents to know that I have always thought the city, the City Commission and our staff are transparent people," he said. "We've never tried to hide, as far as I know, anything from the people in regards to this project."

Partington acknowledged that yes, the mention of the fuel farm was included in a city manager's report back in June 24, 2022. 

This is what that report states on the fuel farm: Pre-application meeting for a parcel located in unincorporated Volusia County that seeks a fuel farm facility with railroad access. Items discussed included the permitting process, utilities, annexation required based on the connection to city utilities, roadway access, intersection of US1 and Hull Road, and proposed traffic study.

"If we're trying to hide something, we're doing a terrible job of it from that perspective," Partington said.

When he read that, he imagined something similar to the fuel storage facilities at the airport or at the city's Public Works department. 

"I certainly in my lifelong experience in the city could never fathom an industrial 20 million gallon fuel farm," he said. "That would be the farthest thought from my mind. Still can't believe it today that's what they're proposing."


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