More than a historical footnote, this event serves as a point of reflection into the present as African-American residents of the city claim to still be living under the cane of Preston Brooks – their concerns ignored and their lives discounted (Loder 2006). Decades of perceived neglect - to neighborhoods, infrastructure and health concerns – have led to accusations of racism intertwined with small town politics. In a city literally divided by train tracks, there seemingly exist two very different dominating, and often competing, worldviews.
While these claims are made in many ways, none seems to be more fitting for inspection than those surrounding the use of, and later abandonment of, the Hernando County Public Works site located in the South Brooksville neighborhood of Mitchell Heights. Purchased for a single dollar in 1955, this five acre site in South Brooksville was used for over 30 years as the countyŐs public works compound, housing diesel, gasoline, asphalt, kerosene, pesticides, paints and solvents on the property (Loder 2006). The countyŐs fleet refilling, road repair and mosquito control all operated on the small plot long Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. (Formerly Summit Ave) in residential Mitchell Heights (Loder 2006).
With a sloping landscape that runs toward the homes along A Street, stormwater runs across the site into residentŐs backyards. Reports of spilled chemicals, open hazardous containers, employees rinsing off diesel soaked trucks and streams of sludge are all parts of the experienced lives in this blue-collar neighborhood (Loder 2006). For example, one weekend, backyards were covered in black sludge after someone left open a spigot on a tank of tar emulsion (Loder 2006).
Residents of Mitchell Heights have reported health issues such as cancer, respiratory irritation, skin rashes, asthma and headaches (Loder 2006). They attribute these illnesses to the environmental contamination documented at the former DPW site - among other commercial properties in the area - along with the lack of urgency in the site cleanup by governmental officials (Loder 2006).
Since the county moved its DPW site in 2003, the compound, and the environmental hazards have been well documented while clean up has been slow to move forward (Behrendt 2010). Missed deadlines and broken promises dot the historical narrative. The county has blamed misplaced paperwork and miscommunication as to why the site has remained contaminated (Loder 2006). Some residents have claimed that governmental inaction is due to the predominately African-American make-up of the residents of Mitchell Heights as well