DADE CITY — The company that wanted to build and run a landfill east of Dade City is challenging the state environmental agency that refused to grant a permit for the project.
Angelo's Aggregate Materials alleges in its 15-page appeal filed Tuesday afternoon that the Department of Environmental Protection improperly rejected the company's plans based on the findings of another state agency that, it says, lacks authority to evaluate sinkhole dangers at proposed landfill sites.
Among the reasons for DEP's denial was a 4-foot-wide sinkhole that opened in 2007 when soil borings were done on the site. That sinkhole was mentioned only in the fine print of an Angelo's report but singled out by the Florida Geological Survey as a key flaw in the project.
The Florida Geological Survey, a branch of DEP, raised several concerns about possible sinkhole activity in a report released last month. The report noted that a different sinkhole opened at Angelo's existing construction debris pit, about 5,000 feet from the proposed site, while a temporary stormwater pond was being built.
The state geologist's report said the chance of sinkholes was "moderate-to-high," not just "moderate," and that heavy equipment churning the land could induce sinkholes.
The review convinced DEP that the risk of sinkholes on the property was too great. In rejecting the permit request last month, DEP said Angelo's failed to show with "reasonable assurance" that the landfill could be built without a risk to the environment.
Representatives for Angelo's declined to comment Tuesday on the appeal.
But in the paperwork, they questioned "whether and to what extent the FGS has established criteria for evaluating solid waste facility sites, said experience, and protocols for providing findings to the FDEP." They said the geologists' findings were not based on "objective, published standards or criteria to ensure consistency in their application to the proposed Angelo's Class I landfill or any other landfill."
They also asserted the construction and safeguards for the landfill met state standards and asked a judge to decide if DEP followed state rules.
DEP officials could not be reached late Tuesday, but landfill opponents had plenty to say.
"I was under the impression that DEP could leverage any resources they needed to help them assess the geology or construction," said Carl Roth, spokesman for the anti-landfill group Protectors of Florida's Legacy.
That group filed an appeal last week as a tactic to retain legal standing in the process and receive information. It supported DEP in its denial.
A second landfill opponent, Dade City area landowner Bill Blanchard, filed a similar appeal Tuesday.
Roth said it's "unfortunate" that Angelo's decided to appeal. "We were hoping they'd be prudent and decide to back off, but I guess they're going forward with it."
Opponents, which included Dade City and Zephyrhills officials and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, feared that sinkhole activity could cause the landfill to fail, sending poisonous waste into drinking water aquifers, the nearby Green Swamp or the Hillsborough River, which helps provide the region's drinking water.
"It's been a misguided project from the beginning," said rancher Robert Thomas, whose land spans 14,000 acres in Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties. He also owns Crystal Springs Preserve, which Nestle pumps for drinking water, and is a developer.
He said he just received a copy of the appeal so he had no immediate comment. "We'll be providing a thoughtful response," he said.
The Angelo's site is near two landfills — the old county landfill and a construction debris pit owned by Angelo's — as well as a chicken farm with waste lagoons. But the property is also near state conservation lands at the Green Swamp.
Since Angelo's applied for the permit in 2006, controversy has followed. Opponents turned out in force at meetings to speak out against the project, which they said would harm drinking water, attract birds, emit foul smells and devalue their property. They also expressed fears that Angelo's would accept out-of-state waste, which it said it would not do.
Angelo's has said its design is safely engineered and would save Pasco millions of dollars by negating the need for an expansion of the county's garbage-burning incinerator in Shady Hills. Angelo's also said it planned to build a bioreactor that would expand landfill space and allow methane to be converted to energy.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.