County Takes Urgent Action After Commissioner Henry Dean Raises Alarms on Environmental Hazard Affecting Palencia Residents

Driven by grave concerns from reported smoke inhalation and environmental risks posed to Palencia residents by a privately owned wood processing and recycling business, Commissioner Henry Dean urged St. Johns County to take immediate action at the beginning of the March 5 Board of County Commissioners regular meeting. In an unprecedented move, the Board expedited an emergency agenda item to the beginning of its meeting agenda to address the public safety issue.

Commissioner Dean’s grave concern was echoed by Commissioner Christian Whitehurst, who expressed profound frustration with the apparent irresponsibility of the business in question. Urging immediate action, Commissioner Whitehurst called upon County staff to review all existing measures and, if feasible, recommended shutting down the operation to halt further environmental damage.

Responding promptly to the Commissioners’ concerns, County staff initiated thorough engagements with the business and County Code Enforcement, Fire Rescue, and Growth Management Departments. Preliminary findings indicate apparent noncompliance with the issued permit by the business owner, heightening the urgency for intervention.

As a result, the County is actively progressing toward revoking the permit, taking decisive steps to cease the operations contributing to the environmental concerns raised by Commissioner Dean. Following the Board’s decision, the business owner reached an agreement with the County to discontinue the burning operation this morning. However, instead of following through with this agreement, the business chose to continue burning materials, bringing the business further out of compliance. The County immediately deployed Fire Rescue to the location. Fire Rescue will remain on site until the fire is extinguished. Additionally, County Administration will issue a cease-and-desist letter to the business. The Board of County Commissioners remains committed to safeguarding the well-being of all members of the public and maintaining environmental integrity.