Dave Hodges

More About: Corruption

Wittmann, Arizona: The Next Bhopal?

A special note to the readers of Freedoms Phoenix and the numerous web sites which routinely publish my articles related to constitutional liberties: The following article strays from my usual modus operandi in which I present an issue and simply document the facts associated with the event or person being discussed.
I have never used my column, or my radio show as a political advocacy tool beyond the normal bounds of editorializing. In the past, I have simply presented the facts and let the readers decide where to go with the information. In the following case, I am making an exception. This article is dedicated to the children who have no voice for what’s about to befall them. The events and potential consequences, described in this article, are so egregious that there can be no middle ground. The following account contains such a blatant disregard for the truth and the welfare of average everyday American citizens, especially the young children of Nadaburg School. This is a story that is so outrageous, that it calls for public intervention.  
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) is attempting to obtain a zoning change from the City of Surprise, AZ., in order to build an undefined railroad facility just north of Surprise in unincorporated Maricopa County in the mythical town of Wittmann, Arizona. Wittmann is in the general planning area of Surprise. Surprise has continually made political decisions which impact Surprise. Yet, Wittmann citizens do not vote for the people who are deciding much of their future.
In anticipation of granting the zoning variance, the City of Surprise is not requiring BNSF Railroad to disclose their building plans as well as the true intent of their function in Wittmann as a prerequisite to approving the requested change.  In short, the BNSF wants a blank check from Surprise to do what they want and the welfare of the citizens of Wittmann be damned. .  
BNSF has enlisted the city officials of Surprise to act as their brokers. In fact, as this article will demonstrate, it is hard to delineate where Surprise city government begins and BNSF ends.  
The people of Wittmann have already suffered tremendous abuse at the hands of the Planning and Zoning and the Community Planning Department of Surprise.   The Surprise City Council has plans to build sewage and water treatment plants in the neighborhoods of Wittmann while keeping these facilities away from the developers in Surprise. Yet, these inconvenient facilities only serve the residents of Surprise at the expense of the citizens of Wittmann and their subsequent quality of life issues as well as declining property values.
When we lift up the covers of the Surprise, Arizona, we find that many of these Surprise developers are campaign contributors to some on the Surprise City Council and some of those who are running for council seats. No wonder, many of these developers have been handsomely supported through Surprise version of corporate welfare (i.e., tax breaks for the corporations at taxpayer expense).
If this was all there was to this situation, then we would be examining just another in an ever-increasing long line of abuses being perpetrated against various groups of Americans in today’s upside down world of politics. Sadly, the most helpless victims of Surprise’s abuse are between the ages of 5 and 13  
BNSF's profits, rivaling the oil industry, saw coal revenues rose by 21 percent in the fourth quarter (2006) and 19 percent for the year, reflecting increased demand from electric utilities switching from higher-priced natural gas to cheaper coal as their fuel (01-24-2007). http://www.altamontpress.com/discussion/read.php?1,1225
BNSF is profitable on the level of a modern day oil company. Yet, success does not equal morality. The legal system may recognize the BNSF corporation as a person. But just like most corporations, it lacks a social conscience. In fact, if the BNSF Railroad was a person in therapy, it would be diagnosed as being both a psychopath and a sociopath. Consider the following diagnostic criteria needed to make a psychopathic diagnosis in the modern world of psychotherapy.  
1.        Has no consicence and show no remorse for past bad deeds    
2.        No regard for the truth
3.        Does not learn from experience
4.        Their impulsive acts frequently endanger those around them.
Sadly, there are many corporations which meet this diagnostic criteria. This is why we look to government to protect the public from these psychopathic abuses.  But when many of the parts of the Surprise city government are just as pathological as the BNSF, then the people have nowhere to turn for relief and protection.
BNSF Railroad and Surprise Mayor, Joan H. Shafer, have assured the Wittmann public that they have nothing to fear because BNSF has a remarkable track record for safety. However, the facts tell a different story as the recent track record of BSNF Railroad leaves a lot to be desired with regard to public safety. Let’s consider the following events
-On October 1, 2007, the city of Livingston Montana and six businesses as well as nearly 100 residents filed a lawsuit against BNSF over rail yard pollution they say hasn't been properly cleaned up. The lawsuit raises legal claims that allege that BNSF caused the release of "alarming quantities" of hazardous materials (e.g., diesel, toxic solvents, and lead and battery acids) into the soil, surface water supplies as well as the groundwater supply BNSF and its environmental consultant, ENVIRONCON. have refused comment. Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer, announced the state, tired of BNSF’s stalling tactics, would perform the cleanup work and subsequently bill BNSF.  BNSF did not return the calls from the Associated Press.” (AP, 2007)
- From Motley, Minnesota, heavy equipment was brought on October 12, 2007 to clean up a train derailment in Motley. Police Chief Gae Davis says the BNSF train was heading west just before 3 a.m. when about 10 empty coal cars left the tracks. The accident forced authorities to close down U.S. Hwy 10..(Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN. (10/13/2007).
-The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in collaboration with the Agency for toxic Substances are investigating BNSF Railroad for claims of polluting the ground and surface water 
In 1999, from Spokane, Washington, we find a claim filed against BNSF by the Environmental Protection Agency Docket No. TSCA-10-99-0051(10/1999). The EPA complaint alleges “BNSF was aware for years of the improper disposal of PCBs and of the funding problems encountered by Raecorp in attempting to accomplish proper cleanup and disposal of various PCB’s (i.e., hazardous materials)." The complainant emphasizes that the (BNSF) obligation to cleanup and properly dispose of spills and other improperly disposed of PCBs is a one of a continuing concern (http://www.epa.gov/aljhomep/orders/burlingt.htm
Any one of these accidents, near the Nadaburg School in Wittmann, would have likely results in untold numbers of deaths to the school children and staff. Yet, certain psychopathic Surprise and BNSF offiicals turn a blind eye to this looming catastrophe.  
The Teamsters report that railroad workers state that “America’s rail lines appear one step shy of disaster” (Teamsters, 2007)  http://www.teamster.org/divisions/rail/pdfs/railsecuritybook.pdf.
In the article titled “High Alert: Workers Warn of Security Gaps in the Nation’s Railroads,” the Teamsters detail the following concerns regarding today’s railroad system.
 1.  Rail corporations’ growing dependence on remote control technology to replace experienced engineers as a cost savings measure. Sixty seven percent of rail accidents are now happening utilizing technology in lieu of human operators. 
 2.  “Those same engineers report that there’s no distress code or signal on board – other than the railroad radio – to alert authorities of a crisis, even as they pass through or work in rail yards close to schools, government buildings and densely populated areas. In short, workers say, America’s rail lines appear one step shy of disaster.”
  3. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that hazardous rail shipments be rerouted around densely populated areas. “ 
4.   On June 28, 2004 train crash in Macdona, Texas, near San Antonio, in which three people, including a train conductor, died from a chlorine gas release. The National Transportation Safety Board stated that the accident occurred when a Union Pacific (UP) freight train collided with a BNSF train, resulting in the derailment of four locomotives and 35 cars. A two-mile radius surrounding the crash site was evacuated, and 40 people, including the UP engineer, were treated at area hospitals. Preliminary property damage and environmental cleanup was estimated at $7 million. A CDC report, “Public Health Consequences from Hazardous Substances Acutely Released During Rail Transit,” dated January 28, 2005, detailed the abovementioned facts.
5.  In Graniteville, South Carolina, the deadly release of 11,500 gallons of chlorine occurred on a railroad siding near an operational mill in a rural area about 10 miles north of Augusta, Georgia. By the time the crisis has passed, nine people were dead. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. Hundreds were injured and the extent of environmental damage is still not known. 
And the City of Surprise is currying favor to this public menace? How bad is t he BNSF track record? For a more detailed, and shocking list of BNSF transgressions, simply google “BNSF and toxic waste spills.”  The list details the reckless disregard that BNSF exhibits toward public safety.
Let’s lift the covers and take a cursory look at the actions of just a few members of the Surprise city government and how their actions are endangering children.
In the best tradition of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall Gang, Mayor Joan Shafer is a sight to behold. The good mayor has accepted campaign donations from the very developers and business interests that she is supposed to be regulating and safeguarding the public’s interest. Additionally, the Mayor voted herself a six figure retroactive retirement in anticipation of leaving office on December 31, 2007. The mayor routinely insults constituents who disagree with her in her own unique and infamous infantile displays of temper. Mayor Shafer has arbitrarily shortened the public comment time allotted to each citizen if she happens to disagree with them. This is a violation of the law if it is not accompanied by a parliamentary action. And speaking of illegal actions, the good Mayor has received a slap on the wrist for violating the state’s open meetings law. The pleas of Nadaburg School Superintendent, Jim Nelson, on behalf of the safety of the school children, were met with derision by the mayor. In fact, this guardian of the public’s safety has reportedly uttered the following phrases to constituents and other interested parties who dare to disagree with her policies.
“It is my town; I will do what I want.”
“I hope you lose your property.”
“I do not care about your children.”
Originally, I was baffled by the mayor’s unyielding support of placing the BNSF facility so close to such a large number of children. Then I remembered that Surprise does not have an all-inclusive ethics code. Also, Surprise has a well-documented past in which many of its city officials engage in conflicts of interest. In Surprise, the behavior is seemingly allowed and appears to even be encouraged. The mayor, a survivor of two recall elections, has not as of yet announced her post-mayoral plans. However, her actions, as a lame duck mayor are curious given the fact that she could pass the BNSF controversy on to her successor. Why would the mayor needlessly take the heat?  Is there an unknown conflict of interest lying just around the corner involving the Mayor Shafer and the BNSF Railroad? Time will tell.
Based on the premise that the past is an excellent predictor of the future, let’s take a quick look at a situation involving another Surprise city official and yet another conflict of interest. The former head of Surprise Planning and Development Director, LaTonya Finch, is now employed by BNSF. Yes, this is the same Finch who is now the spokesperson for the proposed BNSF Wittmann train facility. I am certain that Ms. Finch, BNSF and the City of Surprise would have the public believe that the timing of her departure from Surprise and her subsequent BSNF employment is all just one big coincidence. But the facts speak to an inbred marriage of business and politics. By the way, Ms. Finch appointed the present Surprise Planning and Development Director, Scott Chezney. Mr. Chezney is an enthusiastic supported of the BNSF project.   Is anyone else wondering what I am? How many more Surprise officials will be employed by BNSF if this project is successfully carried to its completion? A better question would be, who will cry for the children of Wittmann when one of the many BNSF toxic spills take place 200 yards from the Nadaburg School?  
I invited both the mayor and Ms. Finch to appear on my weekly radio show. Neither person returned my phone calls.
The City of Surprise, if it approves the BNSF project, will have failed in its fiduciary duty to the citizens of Surprise and the citizens of its general planning area.
Consider the following mission statement from the Planning and Development Department from the City of Surprise:  "The Surprise Community Development Department strives to provide the very best level of service related to planning, permitting and building safety elements within the city of Surprise. It is the charge of this department to ensure responsible planning within the current and future city limits and that new and existing structures are safe for occupation.” The word safe, or safety, is mentioned twice in this mission statement. Where is the concern for safety of the children of Nadaburg School?  Planning Director, Scott Chezney dishonors the mission statement with his support of the BNSF project. LaTonya Finch has spit upon this mission statement from which at one time, she swore to uphold and honor.
You, I, all of us, have an opportunity to speak for these defenseless children. In an age where Americans seems so reluctant to take a stand on almost anything, I wonder if anyone will be motivated to help these children avoid the possibility of a horrible accident similar to what has been described in this article. If defending children from this type of pure, unadulterated evil is not reason enough to get off the couch and pick up the phone, then what is? And increasing number of Americans are saying that we are losing the country. Well, if we are not willing and motivated to help children avoid the excesses of greedy corporations and self-serving politicians and bureaucrats who serve these special interests, then maybe we deserve to lose our country.
 I would urge all who still believe that the adults, of our society, have an inherent responsibility to protect children when elected officials will not, to pick up the phone and call the mayor, the city council and the BNSF railroad and make them feel the heat. My experience teaches me that when politicians feel the heat, they often come to see the light. 
The first person that you should call is Latonya Finch and let her know that this abuse will not stand. Her contact information is listed below.
LaTonya Finch
BNSF Railway Company
1616 N Litchfield Road
Suite 205
Goodyear, AZ  85338
602-382-5833 Office
602-382-5830 Fax
I am certain that there are several people on the Surprise City Council who do not favor putting school children at risk. However, they need to know that you care and are involved. Give the remaining honest Surprise City Council the support that they need to act with courage and concern instead of the spirit of depraved indifference exhibited by Joan Shafer and the BNSF Railroad.
Joan H. Shafer          Mayor of Surprise    mayor@surpriseaz.com
John Longabaugh-    Council Member      john.longabaugh@surpriseaz.com
Martha Bails             Council Member        martha.bails@surpriseaz.com
Gary “Doc” Sullivan Council Member         doc.sullivan@surpriseaz.com
Danny Arismendez     Council Member         danny.arismendez@surpriseaz.com
Joe Johnson                Council Member        joe.johnson@surpriseaz.com
Gwyn Foro                 Council Member        gwyn.foro@surpriseaz.com 
Phone: 623.222.1300 
Help us stop this impending tragedy from ever becoming a reality. Your sense of humanity demands no less of you.  
About the Author
Dave Hodges believes that the most endangered species on the planet is the American middle class. His work is dedicated to preserving our uniquely American way of life. He is a University of Denver graduate, 1977, BA, sociology;` and a University of Phoenix graduate, 1996, MC, community mental health counseling. Dave has been a high school, college and university level psychology instructor and curriculum developer for over 25 years. Dave has also coached high school and college basketball for the same amount of time. In addition, he is a nationally certified mental health counselor in which he counseled drug addicted ex-felons attempting to productively transition into society. Dave is the host of the talk show, Common Sense, which airs every Sunday at 3pm on KBSZ 1250AM. The show is live streamed and can be accessed at http://www.kbsz-am.com/streaming-audio/

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