Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

Former Alabama Department of Environmental Management Employee Had Doubts About Plane

August 20, 2007

Brian Sanford, a former inspector for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, expressed doubts about the usefulness of the department’s aerial surveillance program when it was started in 2005, comparing Director Trey Glenn to “Homer Simpson.” The program has come under fire recently after Governor Bob Riley took a political trip using the program’s plane.

In blog entries from that time period, Sanford wrote:

“What’s so crazy about the whole thing is that our new leader [Director Trey Glenn] wants to get us our very own plane! The State budget is already meager and our department’s particular slice of the pie is probably the smallest. Raises are few and far between and we don’t even have any of the testing equipment in our section that I learned how to use this week. Yet we’re now going to buy a plane? All I can do is imagine that Homer Simpson has taken over our agency and his first thought on how to solve everything was to put people in planes!”

Sanford also explained how the program worked:

“[Director Trey Glenn] decided we need to conduct aerial reconnaissance in order to locate unpermitted activity. The order came down yesterday apparently, and ever since, they’ve been in a mad rush to slap together a plan for tomorrow. Two of our people will be up in a plane, on loan from another State agency, while four of us will be on the ground in our own, separate vehicles, equipped with GPS units and laptops. When the plane spots an area they want us to check out, they’re going to radio us the lat and long, which we then have to input into an Excel spreadsheet and then import to a MS Streets program to map out where it is and how to get to it.”

When asked about the possibility of using Google Earth, raised in a post on Left In Alabama, Sanford said that he explored the possibility while working at the department, and ruled it out at the time because of the time-sensitive nature of the job:

“Google Earth, in this case, is not practical. I’m not sure how often it’s updated now, but I doubt it’s any more often than it was two years ago. The purpose of the aerial recon was to catch unpermitted construction and mining in areas that wouldn’t be easily observable from roads. While mining jobs last a long time, construction will often be complete within a few months time, during which sedimentation runoff damage to streams and rivers will have occurred. Therefore, real-time information is necessary to find such offending sites, and Google Earth couldn’t provide that. I know, because I suggested it, and got permission to download and examine it. I compared it to known, permitted sites, and the satellite imagery was not up-to-date.”

Sanford also said that Alabama’s laws need to be changed to better protect the environment. Unlike inspectors in other states, such as Georgia, ADEM inspectors lack the authority to immediately shut down job sites as soon as violations of the state’s environmental regulations are discovered. Rather, the violations must be reported back to the department, and work their way through several layers of bureaucracy before action can be taken. Often, by the time inspectors are empowered to act, the damage to the environment has already been done.

Michael

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