Cocoa Expo Under Investigation By St. Johns Water Management

By  //  August 24, 2012

Stormwater Runoff Problems Also A Concern

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BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The St. Johns River Water Management District is awaiting a response from the owner of the Cocoa Expo Sports Center regarding questions about stormwater runoff problems and destruction of wetlands, according to Hank Largin, St. Johns River Water Management District public communications coordinator.

The old stadium that once stood on the grounds of the Cocoa Expo Sports Center once served as the spring training baseball home of the Houston Astros and later the Florida Marlins. (Image courtesy Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame)

The proposed $40 million upgrade of the Cocoa Expo facility has been plagued by zoning and permit restrictions since it began last summer, and an investigation was launched in July by the water management district following complaints that workers at the facility destroyed wetlands by filling them in.

Construction at the Cocoa Expo, located on approximately 48 acres at 500 Friday Road in Cocoa, includes redeveloping a multi-purpose gym at the facility, upgrading baseball fields, creation of parking lots and renovating a dormitory.

“The District’s investigation began soon after we received an application for the Cocoa Expo west parking lot. Staff conducted a site inspection and found that construction had begun on the west parking lot without a District permit having been issued,” said Largin.

“Some wetlands had been filled, but how much was not known at the time because of the nature of the area.”

Largin said results of the investigation have been shared with Cocoa Expo owner Jeff Unnerstall and his staff.

Hank Largin

“The District has completed an investigation of the amount of wetlands on site, and what might have been filled by the owner,” Largin said.

“Staff has met with the owner and the engineering consultant, and provided them with the District’s findings. The owner has not yet responded as to whether or not they agree with the District findings. The District continues to work with the landowner and his consultant on these issues.”

He sent the District out a Request for Additional Information (RAI) letter early in the process that included questions about stormwater.

“Those questions still need to be answered,” Largin said. “The wetland map compiled by District staff is being reviewed by the applicant and we are waiting to hear if they agree with our findings.”

He said the District could impose a fine upon the Cocoa Expo owner for wetland destiuction.

“A penalty or fine has not been discussed as yet, we are too early in the process,” Largin said.

“Penalties could be monetary, but there are alternatives such as restoration work, or a combination. They have 120 days to respond to the RAI but could request additional time with good cause.”

Chuck Nelson

Tuesday morning the Brevard County Commission approved a series of zoning changes 4-1 as requested by Unnerstall, who is from Kissimmee, to help speed construction.

Commissioner Chuck Nelson cast the lone dissenting vote for the zoning changes, saying he thought there were too many loose ends to tie up regarding drainage, parking and traffic concerns.

Last October county fire crews responded to a 3-alarm fire of burning construction material at Cocoa Expo.

1 Comment

  1. I was one of the employees there during the time of the fire and the wetlands destruction. The drainage should be no problem in my professional opinion as a 15 year Civil Engineering project management professional. The stormwater plan was over built. Yes the wetlands were definitely disturbed, but this is only one major environmental issues. The rest perhaps they have gotten away with, or haven’t come to light yet. In being an engineering professional I have an ethical issue. Engineering ethics require me to do what is best for the public. Though I was fired for taking my wife to the neurologist, that animosity plays no part in what I am about to divulge. It is solely an ethical issue. The plans were not followed the digging of underdrain was not installed per plan (check the locations of the pipe. The grading of the fields was not per plan (check the elevations). The owner Jeffery Unnerstall personally filled in ditches and dug ditches on the north end of the site leading to the state’s right of way. We are all aware of the fire. Well that fire was an intentionally started uncontrolled burn of demolished structures and trash from the project. The area was about 200’ x 200’. The Fire burned for months afterwards and the owner and his sons intentionally kept it going and continued to burn debris. When it came time to grade that area on the northwest part of the project for underdrain and the ball field going there they just rented an excavator and buried it right there where it was. Now this leaves yet another environmental nightmare. The underdrain runs right through the buried debris, which is connected to the stormsewer. The poles were moved disturbing Osprey nesting. If that appalls you read on.
    The construction had only myself onsite as an actual professional, though I worked essentially as an operator and laborer with no management responsibility. There were only 3 other workers with no construction background. Unnerstall’s 2 sons were 21 and under and running this $40m project, and then there was also a guy that knew how to plant grass. This was the highest dollar and most unprofessional project I have ever been on. The boys used it as their playground shooting Osprey and Eagles, burying them onsite.
    The engineering firm was also onsite and witnessed the burying of the debris, and their surveyors were the first to note the Osprey nests on the poles. Again I have no animosity with Unnerstall who is the President of Upland Ventures. My employment with them was just a temporary gig anyway, so I could be in Florida for the winter. I want to reiterate that it is in every professional engineer’s code of ethics to keep the public safe. One of the other key concerns I had with the project was a total lack of safety. OSHA should take a look.
    My ethics led me to post this for the safety of the public. Now it is on the government to do what they are also sworn to do.

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