THE BUSINESS JOURNAL

EXCLUSIVE REPORTS
FEC faces inquiry
Stephen Van Drake

MIAMI -- Amid two whistleblower suits, a Miami-Dade County environmental agency is investigating whether Florida East Coast Railway has covered up hazardous materials spills at its 350-acre Hialeah yard since the mid-1990s.


The railroad, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries (NYSE: FLA) based in St. Augustine, denies wrongdoing, but two former railway police officers have filed whistleblower suits, saying the railroad failed to notify federal, state and local environmental agencies of the spills. In deposition testimony, a former secretary backed up their claims.

The railway operates 351 miles of main line track from Jacksonville to Miami.

On July 9, the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal said Stephen P. Roland of Hollywood, a former certified law enforcement officer at the railway, could sue under Florida's whistleblower act instead of the federal counterpart, which is where the railroad wanted the case to go.

In October 2001, Roland and former railway police captain Douglas A. Whaley of Pembroke Pines sued the railway, alleging they were fired in September 2000 for complaining 10 days earlier about the railroad's alleged policy of not notifying federal, state and local environmental agencies of hazardous materials, air and groundwater pollution at the Hialeah yard, sometimes washing toxins into a canal that's a quarter-mile from the Miami River.

The pair, who is seeking unspecified damages, also accused the railway's former police chief William James Keeley III of conducting illegal wiretaps of employees and company contractors.

The railroad adamantly denied these claims.

"The company will vigorously defend itself against these groundless claims while ensuring that the rights of its employees, customers and the community are respected," wrote FEC's general counsel Heidi Eddins in a prepared statement. "The company has a rigorous and proactive compliance program designed to ensure that all work performed and business conducted is done with the utmost integrity and in accordance with the highest ethical standards.

"The company encourages employees to report violations of law or the company's own policies and procedures," she said.

A reporter called Wilbur Mayorga, head of the Pollution Remediation Section of Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management, asking whether he was aware of the suits or any problems associated with hazardous leaks or spills.

He said he was not aware of any such incidences, but when told of the claims made in the suits, he said, "We will investigate the hazardous materials area."