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Head of ADEM says plane allows staff watch out for trouble

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The state’s environmental chief said his agency’s $2.4 million Cessna Caravan aircraft has allowed his staff to monitor pollution, unpermitted facilities and violations of a burn ban.

Trey Glenn, the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, estimated the plane had brought in extra permit fees of about $500,000 in the first year. The pilot, plane payment and fuel had cost about $355,000.

That means each enforcement or spotting flight costs almost $10,000, according to ADEM’s flight logs for the past year examined by The Birmingham News. That does not include times that the plane was flown for transportation or maintenance.

Glenn spoke Friday at a board meeting of the Environmental Management Commission, which oversees ADEM.

Commissioner Anita Archie asked Glenn to provide a list of enforcement related to the plane. He said he would. ADEM has refused to provide such a list previously.

Glenn has not presented a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. He told the commission he is still working on ways to deal with a $3 million shortfall, although he did not specify.

ADEM, which has a $3 million shortfall this year and expects to run $6 million short the following year, has drawn attention for the $2.4 million airplane purchase.

“We have a lot of trees in Alabama,” Glenn said. “If we lived in Utah or someplace, this might not be necessary.”

The aircraft allows for “over-the-fence” readings, he said, because inspectors could not see many sites from the ground. Saying that one-quarter of the states have aircraft for such functions, he handed out a list of state agencies that own airplanes.

Most agencies on his list are natural resources agencies that would do animal surveys, firefighting or other functions different from ADEM’s permitting and pollution control. Almost none of the nation’s environmental protection agencies were on the list.

Ethics training

On another matter, Archie last month recommended ethics training for ADEM staff, particularly senior personnel.

On Friday, she told ADEM employees she was sorry for any implication that their ethics were in question. She said she did not believe any of the staff were doing anything unethical. The staff is doing an excellent job, she said.

“The only purpose of that was to actually protect you,” she said of the training recommendation. “You may be in a situation where somebody may question you.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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