Pasco terminates agreement with USF regarding ‘body farm’

The Pasco County Commission has voted to terminate an agreement with the University of South Florida involving 6 acres of land, north of Central Boulevard in Land O’ Lakes.

Commissioners ended the arrangement with USF — effective May 7, 2022 —  as part of their consent agenda on May 7.

Items on the consent agenda are voted on in a single block without discussion, unless someone pulls the item for discussion.

No commissioner pulled this item for discussion, but some people from the audience signed up for public comment to ask commissioners to rethink the county’s position.

Terms of the original agreement state that it can be terminated without cause by the university or the county, upon 36 months written notice.

Speakers told commissioners that the site is well-managed, plays an important role in research and has attracted widespread attention.

Melissa Pope, of Tampa, told commissioners: “I am investigator at the Medical Examiner in Hillsborough. I’ve worked with the medical examiner that services Pasco and Pinellas, and I have either worked for or with USF anthropology for about 12 years.

“I’m here to urge you to reconsider your stance on this termination. The program is still in its infancy, but it appears to be doing very well.

“I think this is clear based on doing a Google search of how much news has come out of there, as well as the sheer number of researchers, graduate students, undergrads and law enforcement, medical and legal agencies that have been involved in training and research.

“I believe it’s been doing well because of the good leadership that has been in place so far. Dr. (Erin H.) Kimmerle has been working on this project for years.

“She has overseen everything from the infancy of the beginning of the planning up until today and, as previously mentioned, has a lot of plans for the future.

“Ultimately, this project is her intellectual property. She wrote the grant for this. I feel that the work it represents is hers, and she is the reason it has been doing so well.”

Other speakers told commissioners that Kimmerle’s reputation has attracted considerable interest in the site and the work being done there. They also cited ongoing research and training sessions that reflect well on the relationship between USF, the county and sheriff’s office, relating to the site.

Chase Daniels, policy director for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, told commissioners that the contract termination is essentially “a land use issue.”

“When this agreement was approved, it was 6 acres. USF is currently using approximately 3 acres,” Daniels said.

“We have multiple partners at this (body farm) site. We have UF, FGCU, UCF, USF, FSU and other universities that are still coming onboard,” Daniels said.

“USF was the only entity that had its own exclusive land use agreement, over 6 acres.

“We approached USF, with this desire, to have 3 acres returned,” he said, but that did not occur.

So, the decision was made to terminate the agreement, Daniels said. He also noted that USF is welcome to join with the other universities, but it won’t have an exclusive arrangement.

“The field is not going anywhere. This is just mainly to take out that exclusivity, return 3 acres back to the county for use,” Daniels said.

He also told commissioners: “We also have an additional forensics field that is coming online that this board has already approved, as well. That will be in addition to this existing field.”

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey responded to the agreement termination this way: “We’re not excluding anyone. We just want everyone to work together.”

Published May 15, 2019

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