Volusia Council tosses moratorium, clearing path for controversial fuel farm
Volusia County Council’s 5-2 vote this week against a temporary pause on heavy industrial development clears the way for Belvedere Terminals to pursue its plans for a new bulk fuel storage and distribution terminal in Ormond Beach.
If developed, the facility could store up to 500 million gallons of fuels like gasoline, diesel and propane, according to a technical evaluation by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), which issued the facility’s initial air construction permit last summer.
The controversial “fuel farm” project worries many local residents and elected officials, who for months have pushed back against the facility’s proposed location at the intersection of Hull Road and U.S. Route 1.
One concerned resident, Jo Lynch, lives in a nearby 55+ community where some homes lie just a stone’s throw from the proposed project site. Lynch, 80, says she and many of her neighbors fear what might happen if something were to go wrong at the fuel farm: like a chemical explosion, or a freight train derailment like last year’s in East Palestine, Ohio.
“We've got 600 and some houses in there, so you think about how many people would be kind of trapped,” Lynch said. “There's so many houses for sale now, because older people, they're trying to get out before [the facility] gets in.”
A corporate representative for Bear Creek Village, Cyndi King, echoed residents’ concerns during Volusia County’s council meeting Tuesday.
“We're deeply concerned about the proposed fuel terminal development in the Ormond Beach area, just less than a half mile away from our community,” King said.
King told council members about 1,500 of their constituents live in Bear Creek Village. Many of them, Lynch says, are Florida transplants just like her: people who fell in love with Ormond Beach as a vacation spot, then ended up moving here.
“They come to Florida, and the next thing you know, they want to live in Florida,” Lynch said.
‘If I was younger, I’d probably leave here’
Lynch, originally from Maryland, says her family spent years vacationing in Ormond Beach before she and her husband moved here in 1998. Since then, “half of our family has moved down this way,” Lynch said. But it wasn’t until several years later, in 2006, when Volusia County classified the project site’s area as a “heavy industrial” zone.
The council in late November directed staff to review, and possibly revise, Volusia’s current I-2/heavy industrial zoning district while development was paused in those areas under a temporary moratorium, which council members initially favored. But council members pivoted Tuesday, voting to reject a second, final reading of the ordinance that would’ve established the nine-month moratorium.
“There were a lot of people who were, I think, very disappointed,” Lynch said after Tuesday’s meeting. “If I was younger, I'd probably leave here; I'd move. It's really hard to pick up everything and move when you're in your eighties.”
Lynch says after growing up less than an hour from Washington, D.C., industry was exactly what she wanted to escape. Ormond Beach was quite literally a breath of fresh air, she says, offering a peaceful respite from the industrial factories she was used to.
“It’s just peaceful here,” Lynch said. “It's a quiet area; the coastal areas are just gorgeous.”
But now, she says she’s dreading the prospect of Belvedere Terminals building a fuel storage facility on the nearby site.
“It's just kind of like a big black cloud hanging over us,” Lynch said. “Nobody wanted Ormond Beach to become an industrial place … It takes away from why you moved there.”
What comes next
As of February 7, more than 41,000 people signed a citizens’ petition against Belvedere’s proposed fuel farm. Volusia County previously sent several letters of concern to state lawmakers and FDEP, and the City of Ormond Beach issued a joint statement of concern, signed by its mayor, fire and police chiefs.
Belvedere Terminals insists its project would be safe, telling WMFE News in a prior statement: “Our top priority is public safety and that is why we are meeting and exceeding the requirements of the American Petroleum Institute and National Fire Protection Association in all our plans.”
The company also plans to invite community members to town hall style meetings, designed to provide a better understanding of the facts about the fuel terminal and the importance of fuel supply chain security in Florida, according to a written statement Belvedere Terminals shared Wednesday from Chief Operating Officer Mike Benedetto.
An attorney representing Belvedere Terminals at Tuesday’s council meeting said state law doesn’t allow local governments like Volusia County to stop fuel terminal projects.
“The law is clear: fuel terminals are important to the economy, health, safety and welfare of the state and the counties cannot act to stop these projects,” said Nick Dancaescu, an attorney with GrayRobinson's property rights group.
A bill currently moving through the Florida Legislature, Senate Bill 1628, would enhance state oversight, by helping private businesses like Belvedere sue local governments for actions that “negatively impact” them.
Volusia County Councilman and former Florida Representative David Santiago initially voted in earlier council meetings to advance the industrial development moratorium. But on Tuesday, Santiago voted “no,” saying Florida lawmakers could potentially enhance the state’s authority even further.
“The moratorium is not a silver bullet,” Santiago said. “The Legislature is acting; that will also probably preempt anything we're doing, or trip us up, or cause us more harm.”
On Tuesday, only two Volusia County councilmembers — the chair and vice-chair — voted in favor of the moratorium.
“I want more businesses in Volusia County, but at what price?” Volusia County Chairman Jeff Brower said.
Belvedere will work with county staff to determine next steps and timing for re-submitting its site plan applications, according to the company’s Wednesday statement.