A cell phone call from your child during a serious natural gas leak in
Harmony could spark a major explosion.
Starwood / Harmony Development Company failed to disclose the presence of 2
immense natural gas pipelines running through land donated for the
elementary school in Harmony.
The Harmony Community School (and much of Harmony) is in a "high consequence
area" (see attachment "HarmonyGasPipelines.bmp"), according to the natural
gas industry. The industry defined "safe evacuation distance" from these
pipelines is approximately 2163 feet (almost half a mile).
The Harmony Community School is 140 feet from one pipeline and 180 feet from
the other, the largest natural gas pipeline in Osceola County.
The Harmony Community School opened in 2008. Yet the principal there since
its inception did not know about these gas pipelines until 2 months ago.
Parents were finally informed only a few weeks ago.
Starwood never told anyone that nearly a half billion cubic feet of
explosive natural gas would be flowing right next to the Harmony elementary
school each and every day.
What is the most natural thing for a child to do during an emergency these
days? While everyone is running out of the school and smelling gas
everywhere, what will Kaylee do? She will turn on her cell phone and call
her mother. If not Kaylee, another child will call or text a parent or a
sibling. This is inevitable.
Yet such a simple act - using a cell phone during a gas leak - may trigger
an explosion, killing or injuring many near the school (see attachment
Did you know this?
According to Pipelines and Informed Planning Alliance guidelines (see "PIPA
Recommended Practice BL05", http://tinyurl.com/m28huqf
), the multi-billion
dollar Starwood Capital Group must have known this when they donated land
for the Harmony elementary school. Yet they told no one who lives in
Harmony, nor the principal, nor the school district, nor anyone with
children in the school.
But Starwood is just a thing. It has no heart. It has no soul. It does not
feel for your children or mine.
Starwood does not care about the safety of elementary school children. If it
did, the parents of these children would have been fully informed long ago.
Starwood cares only that an elementary school is useful for selling houses
in Harmony (see "Painting by Numbers", http://tinyurl.com/obw3tlx
Before getting into the meat of this matter I want to thank David Leeman for
being the first to bring Harmony's gas pipelines to public attention and
inspiring me to pursue a full investigation. Although he was dismissive of
their significance to our community at the time, Dave's willingness to at
least write openly about a gas pipeline in Harmony is commendable (he
apparently only knew about one, see "Request for Fred Hawkins 7-1-2013",
According to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA),
natural gas pipelines alone accounted for more than 80 explosions and fires
in the US during 2012 (see "Pipeline Explosions Since 2001",
Two immense natural gas pipelines run right through the center of Harmony.
According to their owner, Florida Gas Transmission Company (FGTC), these
pipelines provide the bulk of the fuel for power generation in Florida.
The larger of the two pipelines is only 2 sizes smaller than the maximum
pipeline size available in the US for natural gas (42"). Together these
pipelines move nearly a half billion standard cubic feet of explosive
natural gas within 180 feet of the Harmony Community School every day.
Sheila Martin of the Smalley Foundation and the School Pipeline Safety
Partnership says "These schools [those less than 660 to 1000 feet or more
from a gas pipeline] are considered 'high consequence areas' (HCA) according
to pipeline regulatory agencies like PHMSA, DOT, RP1162, etc." Only 1 in 20
schools in the United States is located within a half-mile (2640 feet) of a
pipeline (see attachment "SchoolPipelineSafetyPartnership.pdf").
Harmony Community School is among the unlucky 5%.
According to the National Pipeline Mapping System (see
), there are only 2 natural gas pipelines in
Osceola County - running side-by-side - that are large enough to appear on
its map. As previously stated, they both run right through the center of
Harmony. Not only is the elementary school affected, but many homes in
Harmony are well within the "high consequence area" of these pipelines also.
Based on Harmony's natural gas pipeline diameter of 30" (the largest in
Osceola County, according to Osceola County Emergency Management Director
Richard Collins) and its maximum allowable operating pressure (according to
FGTC), the actual "Recommended Minimum Evacuation Distances For Natural Gas
Pipeline Leaks and Ruptures" is about 2163 feet in Harmony (almost half a
mile). This is according to the Pipeline Association for Public Awareness
(see attachment "EvacuationDistanceChart.pdf"). Like the school, most of the
homes in Harmony are also less than this distance from these pipelines.
The gas pipelines in Harmony are "odorized" with the chemical ethyl
mercaptan for the purposes of leak detection. That way normally odorless
natural gas will smell like propane (also odorless) which is very familiar
to barbecue enthusiasts everywhere.
The Harmony Community School Principal, Jon Davis, was completely unaware of
these pipelines next to his school. When told of the extremely high volume
of gas involved, Mr. Davis's secretary exclaimed "Oh my god!"
The school district reviewed the information available and quickly concluded
that it would be prudent to send letters to all parents of students who
attend the Harmony Community School informing them of these pipelines (see
attachment "SchoolLetter.jpg"). The school district could have been much
more informative, but at least they did something.
According to the Osceola School District's Director of Community Relations
as well as its Chief Facilities Officer, there is no documentation showing
disclosure of the gas pipelines on Harmony property by Starwood / Harmony
Development Company, land specifically donated for construction of the
elementary school in Harmony. The school district learned about the
pipelines only after doing its own inspections. Sadly, Mr. Davis was never
informed about the gas pipelines either by Starwood or the school district.
The land immediately adjacent (on the other side of the pipelines) will not
be developed for home construction either. Apparently the land donated for
the school was less valuable to the developer than more distant parcels. Yet
at the time, they issued a press release touting "Harmony Development
Company will donate the land (10 acres valued at $4,000,000)" (again see
"Painting by Numbers", http://tinyurl.com/obw3tlx
You will notice from the map (attachment "HarmonyGasPipelines.bmp") that the
area of Harmony shown in the upper right hand corner is the only set of
Harmony lots currently outside of the "safe evacuation distance".
Coincidentally, these are also the most expensive lots in Harmony.
As a Harmony resident myself, I was unable to find disclosure of any kind to
the hundreds of residents who have bought homes in Harmony and who now live
within the same "high consequence area" of these gas pipelines.
To date, Starwood / Harmony Development Company has offered no information
to existing home owners or to prospective home buyers about the potential
consequences of a gas pipeline accident. Nor have they offered any
educational programs on how Harmony home owners and their families can
prepare for such an accident. Nothing has been done to inform the public.
It is notable that these same gas pipelines were briefly discussed at a
Harmony CDD meeting in 2007 and quickly dismissed by a Starwood
representative as "not considered CDD business."
The recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas resulted in 15 deaths.
Shortly thereafter oil train explosions in Quebec resulted in 42 deaths.
Osceola Commissioner Fred Hawkins was asked publicly about similar
potentially hazardous areas in Osceola County. He was explicitly asked about
gas pipelines (see "Request for Fred Hawkins - 2013-06-21",
Are there any gas pipelines close to homes
or schools in Osceola County Fred?
Commissioner Hawkins' only answer was "Yes, we have gas lines." That was the
extent of his gas pipeline research on behalf of Osceola County citizens.
Commissioner Hawkins never hinted "You have giant gas pipelines in your own
backyard powering most of Florida."
Likewise, Commissioner Hawkins apparently asked no questions to anyone who
might know. The thought never crossed Commissioner Hawkins' mind to ask
about potential hazards under his watch in east Osceola or anywhere else in
Osceola County. Or if he had such thoughts, he was unwilling to share them.
Commissioner Hawkins never spoke a peep in public about the massive volumes
of potentially explosive natural gas running past Harmony's elementary
school every day. As an Osceola County Commissioner representing district 5
(where Harmony and the pipelines are located), how could he not have known?
Fred Hawkins may fear losing one of his biggest benefactors just by thinking
about gas pipelines in Harmony. So he refused to seriously answer questions
about gas pipelines or any other potential explosion hazard in Osceola
County. It should be noted that Starwood / Harmony Development folks were
Commissioner Hawkins' second largest campaign contributors during the recent
2012 election (after Disney).
Unwilling to look into the matter himself, it seems that Fred Hawkins along
with Starwood / Harmony Development (which also did not respond to
inquiries) would prefer that the general public be kept in the dark about
these pipelines. Getting nowhere with Starwood directly, my attempt to get
some reassurances from Brock Nicholas, current VP of Harmony Development
Company, also fell flat.
It seems that other than David Leeman, no one wants to talk about the
eye-popping reality of immense natural gas pipelines running through the
center of Harmony. Like the 3 monkeys, Starwood, Brock and Fred seem to want
to cover their eyes, ears and mouths when it comes to Harmony's pipelines.
While these same pipelines pass through St. Cloud, they veer away from the
densest areas of that city. Quite the opposite is true in Harmony. It would
seem that Starwood / Harmony Development Company went out of its way to cram
as many houses as close to these pipelines as possible.
Even the editor of the Osceola News Gazette, Brian McBride, (and apparently
its owner Dennis Wilkinson) so fears a lawsuit from the multi-billion dollar
Starwood company that he refused to publish this story after originally
saying he would. I asked him outright "Are you afraid of being sued by
Starwood?" McBride said "Yes." The sad truth is that little local newspapers
no longer have the wherewithal to properly investigate anything anymore.
Apparently their own financial safety is a higher priority to them than
investigating and keeping their readers informed of public safety issues at
home or in schools.
A Fox news piece from earlier this year illustrates the potential of what we
are talking about here:
Pipelines carry hazardous liquids underneath Colorado neighborhood
This section parallels the situation in Harmony:
Sinclair was so concerned about homes being built too
close to their pipeline, the company sent out a safety
brochure that says "no occupied dwellings within 100
feet." The diagram shows 50 feet on each side.
But some homes were built as close as 24 feet away.
Sinclair refused our request for an interview, but sent
us a statement which says in part, "...our pipeline was
originally installed in 1963 in what was then primarily
Still, Vaden doesn�t fault Sinclair, "The pipeline had
a right to be there, they were in there 50 years ago."
Instead he blames Rolling Hills Developer Bruce Gilliam
who built the homes much closer to the pipelines than
Sinclair recommended and the town that allowed him to
Gilliam also refused our repeated requests for an
interview. He referred us to town planner, John
Finally, it should be noted that The Smalley Foundation (mentioned earlier
in this article) was formed after the tragic death of 17 year-old Danielle
Smalley. She died in her valiant attempt to quickly notify others of a gas
leak in her own neighborhood. She died never knowing that merely starting
her car in the midst of a gas leak can cause an explosion.
Is the average Harmony resident aware of this?
I wasn't. Were you?