September 11, 2023 [JAX TDY]- Dinsmore area resident Bill Riley stood alone in his red shirt at City Hall in Jacksonville on Thursday, pleading with the city’s Planning Commission to recommend that a proposed rail terminal and fuel tank farm not be constructed in his neighborhood.
He was the designated resident charged with eyeing the advisory board meeting as he and his neighbors try to convince city leaders to deny a large-scale comprehensive plan amendment for the roughly 101-acre project off Garden Street between Paxton Road and Imeson Road.
The Belvedere Terminals project, if approved by City Council, would pave the way for 14 aboveground fuel storage tanks, new railway construction and truck loading bays to transport various types of fuel across Florida. It is one of three sites the company is looking to build across the state to make fuel transport more efficient, at least two of which are meeting strong resistance from nearby residents.
“There’s a lot of other residents that showed up last night,” Riley told the Planning Commission on Thursday, regarding a Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting held Wednesday, when Council members allowed a deferral of the request for another few weeks. “I’m sure every one of you have gotten quite a few letters or emails from us.”
Riley told the planning board that it was “disappointing that this thing keeps getting deferred… We’d appreciate you all not deferring this much past next month, because you’ve beaten down the residents that keep coming out.”
Belvedere Terminals LLC intends to build the fuel storage yard and railway terminal in the Dinsmore area, just south of Callahan. The company also has plans for two other projects – one in Fort Pierce that has yet to have a solid site planned, and another in Ormond Beach, a little north of Daytona Beach, that has met with the largest crowds of opposition to a project the county manager there has ever seen.
The company, based in St. Petersburg, with a rail hub in Mississippi, aims to make fuel shipping across Florida more resilient against interruptions.
What’s the company’s plan?
In an statement emailed to Jacksonville Today, Belvedere Terminals said its proposed system will offer Floridians “safer, lower cost and more reliable delivery of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. In addition, Belvedere’s delivery model will help prevent the interruption of the fuel supply chain during times of weather disasters.”
Because Florida has no in-state refining hubs or pipelines for petroleum products, the state is dependent on shipping, and truck transport can be interrupted during hurricane season when ships cannot access ports on time, the company says.
“Belvedere’s system is a unique hub-and-spur distribution system,” the company wrote. “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.”
According to the company, Belvedere intends to make an investment of up to $1.25 billion over the next five years in the Southeastern U.S., with $750 million in Florida. In an email, a company spokeswoman shared that the initial investment will be approximately $250 million in Florida in the first three sites, with approximately $100 million in Jacksonville.
“It’s a contemporary new way of diversifying fuel, energy, distribution and storage in Florida,” said Jason Gabriel, the city of Jacksonville’s former general counsel who is now representing landowners Edward and Rima Elias. As the couple apply for a land use change and rezoning from agricultural to light industrial zoning, Gabriel told the commission the company’s plan is “cutting edge,” adding, “In other words, this type of use actually utilizes the train track and big property to store the fuel. No distillation, no manufacturing, no that sort of thing, but just pure fuel storage from the train track and then from there, it gets deployed by truck.”
According to an air construction permit application filed with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, “The proposed facility will consist of multiple truck loading bays, a tank farm for aboveground storage tanks, an emergency generator, and a fire protection system which includes a fire pump.”
The permit application states that the Jacksonville Terminal will receive the majority of gasoline, diesel, jet aviation fuel, marine gas oil, and biodiesel products via railway tank cars from an out-of-state terminal. Ethanol deliveries will arrive via trains from suppliers in the Midwest.
The fuel products will go into the 14 tanks and, according to the document, then get loaded into trucks. The document states that “the terminal will not conduct any rail car loading.”
The residents in nearby Jacksonville subdivisions, opposed mostly over safety and traffic concerns, are mirroring the opposition about 90 minutes south in Ormond Beach.
Overflow crowds; thousands opposed
In Volusia County, where Belvedere Terminals aims to build a similar project, so many people came out to a meeting at the county government complex that there were overflow crowds in opposition. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, more than 12,000 area residents signed a petition opposing the project there.
The August 23 special meeting of the Volusia County Council had the “biggest crowd Volusia County Manager George Recktenwald has ever seen” to raise objections to the huge fuel tank farm and rail terminal planned near Ormond Beach, the News-Journal reported. By the end of that three-hour special meeting, the County Council voted to have county staff work with Belvedere Terminals to consider a different site. They also aimed to have staff to meet with state and federal officials and review case law to determine what options the county may have.
The city of Ormond Beach, which the Volusia site falls near, has also voiced strong opposition to the fuel farm proposal for 874 Hull Road. The city sent letters of opposition to the Volusia County Council, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Congressman Michael Waltz, FDEP and the Volusia County Legislative Delegation as well as Belvedere.
In Volusia, part of the site is already zoned for heavy industrial use and the company has already received a minor “air construction permit” from the state Department of Environmental Protection for fuel emissions. But here in Jacksonville, the City Council must approve the comprehensive plan amendment and, as of Friday, a Belvedere Terminals spokesperson said the company had yet to be issued a permit from DEP for the site in Jacksonville.
In an email, the company stated that it aims for the Jacksonville site to be the first of the three sites to be constructed.
“The first site to be developed in Florida will be Jacksonville, followed closely by sites in Ft. Pierce and Ormond Beach,” the company states. “Belvedere has already invested millions of dollars in engineering and design work in Florida. The permitting process is underway, and the company expects to be under construction within the next 12 months and operational in the beginning of 2025.”
Efforts to voice concern
The number of residents who have come out to oppose the Jacksonville terminal plans are not quite as large as those who showed up in Volusia County. On Wednesday, a block of about 40 Northside Jacksonville residents donned red shirts at Jacksonville City Hall and implored Land Use and Zoning Committee members to deny Belvedere Terminals’ request.
But the group is making every attempt to grow, says area resident David Taylor.
“We just need to show a presence like we did tonight,” Taylor said after the LUZ meeting, as the unofficial group gathered to go over plans about who could attend the October meetings. “If we get the numbers up… it’s going to be good for us.”
Taylor on Wednesday told the LUZ board that the residents don’t oppose the fuel depot going somewhere – just not in their residential area.
Gabriel told the board that the company is working to make sure that residents’ concerns are addressed.
“We’re internally huddling, so to speak,” Gabriel told the board Wednesday. “There’s a discussion being had, so there’s a need for a little more time.”
He told City Council members who sit on the committee that the Eliases don’t want to delay indefinitely.
“They bring up good points,” Gabriel said of the residents. “Obviously we’re taking it very seriously. Safety is of prime importance to this whole thing.”
But Taylor said there’s really no discussion as long as this particular location is at issue.
Harry Webster, also of the Dinsmore area, stated clearly the residents’ primary concerns about 14 fuel tanks fewer than 800 feet from at least one subdivision set to be built by KB Homes.
“If something goes wrong, the impact is going to be exponential,” Webster said. “It’s going to be crazy. I don’t even know how, to be honest with you, it got to this point that we’re even discussing putting a fuel depot in the middle of a residential, neighborhood community where people live.”
According to a city staff report, the site lies within the boundary of the Northwest Vision Plan, in a rural residential zone.
A focus of the Northwest Vision Plan “is to create centers to increase development and redevelopment within the district while protecting existing neighborhoods.”
“The proposed infill development promotes a use that is inconsistent with the abutting and surrounding uses and potentially intrudes into existing nearby neighborhoods,” the staff report states. “Therefore the amendment is inconsistent with the Vision Plan.”
The 101-acre Jacksonville site also includes just under 60 acres of wetlands. Gabriel said that the plan calls for using 30 acres of the site for construction, and that a buffer would prevent area residents from viewing the fuel storage tanks.
Jason Teal, senior assistant attorney with the city’s Office of General Counsel, said that because the request was deferred, there will be additional public testimony and substantial evidence presented to help City Council members make a decision on the request.
The Planning Commission continued the request to its October 5 meeting, and the Land Use and Zoning Committee is expected to hold a public hearing on October 17.
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