Residents fret proposed landfill

Published January 6, 2007

DADE CITY - Connie Cooper lost her husband and fell into a coma after they got into a car crash in May.

Now, four months after she woke, she's worried about a new problem.

A 92-acre landfill is proposed just outside her Messick Road home in the rural pastures east of Dade City, barely 2 miles from the Withlacoochee River.

"It's like one thing after another," she said. "I didn't buy out here to look at something like that."

In this bucolic landscape of rolling hills, cows and orange groves, residents are up in arms over the pitch by a Largo firm and a group that includes some well-connected east Pasco landowners for a Class 1 landfill to be built at on the fringes of the Green Swamp preserve. Class 1 landfills can take all forms of household waste, including asbestos, but not hazardous material.

"We're all on wells here, and we have enough problems as it is," said resident Cynthia Baker. "I know a lot of people there who aren't happy."

The proposal by Angelo's Recycled Materials is to build the $10-million facility by the end of 2007.

The Largo company's application is just going through the first stages of review at state and county offices. The state Department of Environmental Protection issues the environmental and operating permits; Pasco must approve its zoning.

Angelo's envisions that it will handle as much as 3,000 tons of rubbish a day, based on a county population estimation of 454,120 by 2011.

But residents and the DEP are questioning the numbers because environmental regulators usually project that a person produces an average of 4.4 pounds of trash a day.

That would mean slightly less than 1,000 tons of trash a day in Pasco, based on a population of 454,120. This is nowhere near the 3,000-ton limit proposed by Angelo's.

John Arnold, the project engineer, said these are just initial projections for sizing up the landfill.

"We're going to start at whatever rate we can start off with," he said.

The DEP has responded to Angelo's proposal with nearly 60 pages worth of detailed questions.

Among other issues, the department wants to know what kind of trash would be brought in and where it would be placed and how the leachate - water runoff tainted by the trash - would be collected.

In particular, the department is raising a red flag on Angelo's proposal to have waste just 4 inches from the sides of the liner system, which separates the waste from the ground.

"If it's just 4 inches, we want to know if it will result in waste leaking outside the liner system," said Pamala Vazquez, the department's spokeswoman.

Arnold said Angelo's is willing to revise its proposal to put as much as 5 feet between the liner and waste, if the state would prefer that. But he added that Angelo's is proposing to use a liner system that has won numerous industry awards.

The DEP also wants Angelo's to detail all known sinkholes within a mile of the site.

Residents remain fearful of leachate running into the Withlacoochee River or seeping through the ground to potentially taint the aquifers that feed drinking wells in the area.

Angelo's attorney, Jerry Figurski, argued that the area is rich in clay, which acts as a filter.

Figurski also said a new road would be built northward from Janmar Road, and the landfill's entrance placed away from Messick Road, so residents on Messick would not have to fear noise and traffic.

"Consistently, from the beginning, Angelo's has been extremely cognizant of neighbors," Figurski said.

The company has offered to buy property from irate residents, he said. Arnold said Angelo's has also met some neighbors and remains open to discussing its proposal with more of them.

But a larger fear among some residents is that politics and business may intertwine in the community of east Pasco landowners and influence the decision when the Angelo's proposal goes before the County Commission.

Baker is concerned that the landowners cooperating with Angelo's include Charles and Cynthia Waller, Earl Singletary, Boyd Hyder and Walter Rowland. They are said to be friends with County Commissioner Ted Schrader, also a prominent east Pasco landowner.

Charles Waller is a Dade City lawyer, and Singletary is a farmer.

But Schrader strongly denied the charge.

"I hope she knows me well enough to know I will vote whatever's in the best interests of Pasco County, not the interests of property owners involved," Schrader said.

Still, the Angelo's proposal comes at a time when Pasco is weighing options on how to handle its solid waste.

The county is trying to decide whether to expand its landfill at Shady Hills. Its only other landfill is an abandoned one in east Pasco near the Angelo's proposed site.

"Pasco has to make a decision whether to expand Shady Hills or look for alternative methods," Schrader said. "I am on the committee that will rank the proposals that will be before us. No decision has been made."

Cost may play in the favor of Angelo's.

At the lower end of its range, Angelo's is pitching $35 to dispose of a ton of waste. Pasco was reportedly paying $53 a ton two years ago, a cost almost certainly higher today.

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development. He can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.