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In a photo from the University of Florida archives, the light-colored areas on the photo are the areas where materials were dumped from around 1940 to 1959.

Are we asking the right questions about the history of Southridge as a city dump?

New York Avenue and Woodland Boulevard might be considered the crossroads of DeLand, but we all know you can’t turn there.

The Southridge Golf Course site represents a defining crossroads for the future of our community. The decision about what kind of development will take place here holds symbolic value, representing the direction we will take in our city’s next chapter.

Will we turn and invest in a mutually beneficial community space, or will we keep going the way we’ve been going and carve this land into 615 more homes?

OVER THE YEARS — The former Southridge Golf Course, now the site of a proposed housing development, is shown in 2021 in this aerial photo by Dave Ballesteros.

In deciding on that direction, leaders must come to grips with where we’ve come from. History matters, even our buried history.

As Mayor Robert Apgar noted in his exhortations Nov. 6 during the inauguration of Stetson University’s 10th president, Christopher Roellke, Henry DeLand established this city to be a community dedicated to culture and learning.

That’s a rosy view we should embrace, and it’s true, but DeLand also has its share of historic traumas and buried secrets. Every community does.

I wrote a few weeks ago about our ongoing work as a community to face our history of racial trauma and injustice. We also have to face our history of environmental missteps and address them head-on to make sure we don’t perpetuate them.

Once we know better, we must do better. That is “culture and learning.”

We understand that cultural norms shift over time, including how we should treat each other and how we should treat the environment on which we all depend.

Our knowledge has grown exponentially over the past 80 years about how our impacts on the environment affect people’s health and well-being.

Human health is intricately connected to the health of the environment. Clean air, clean water, and clean soil are essential for healthy lives. Access to adequate green space and mature trees is essential for our mental and physical health, too.

We recognize that, across the country and in our own city, the poorest members of our community are often subjected to the highest exposure to toxins on lands that have low value because they were once used as agricultural sites with pesticides, industrial sites with heavy metals, or for waste disposal. This is called environmental injustice, or, when poverty intersects with race, environmental racism.

Just as buried trauma in our personal lives or family stories must be acknowledged to start a healing process, we must also identify and address the buried burdens of our communities.

What was going on in DeLand in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, before there was an Environmental Protection Agency to regulate waste disposal in lined, capped and monitored landfills? What activities generated waste that ended up in the city dump that underlies the Southridge (now Sandhill) Golf Course?

What explains the high concentrations of barium and chromium reported in the publicly available preliminary environmental report? What other contaminants that have direct impacts on human health remain below in the old dump? What pesticides are concentrated in the surface soils of a 57-year-old golf course?

We’re a community of culture and learning. What do we know? What have we learned? Will we perpetuate our mistakes?

Has the city or the developer proposing Beresford Reserve done their due diligence to assure future homebuyers that this site is safe for families? Have they assured all of us that disturbing the surface soils and buried dump contents won’t release those contaminants into the aquifer below that is our city’s water supply?

How could city commissioners possibly make a reasonably informed decision about a residential development proposal if these questions about what lies beneath remain unanswered?

We need not let our buried stories define us, but ignoring them never works out well. What lies beneath usually surfaces … or leaches.

Once we know what is buried, then we can decide with the help of experts how to deal with it. Only then can we make a plan to move forward and transform that difficult part of our history into hope for a better future.

***

Join us at the crossroads, the special meeting of the DeLand City Commission at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, to tell your Southridge stories, share your opinions about the development proposal, or just listen.

It’s time for our community of culture and learning to seek the truth and then to heal.

— Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.

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