TEMPLE TERRACE — State officials who twice refused to allow a controversial household garbage landfill to be built near Dade City once supported the project, according to the company's project manager.
John Arnold said representatives of Angelo's Aggregate Materials had 20 face-to-face meetings with staffers from the state Department of Environmental Protection since the company started buying the land in 2005.
"Each time, it was almost exclusively to understand the comments we received from them," said Arnold, who testified Tuesday in the Largo-based company's appeal of the state's denials of the permit in 2009 and 2011. "Every time we followed through on their requests to modify our landfill."
Angelo's promised a double liner, extra layers and grout for sinkhole prone areas.
Arnold even affirmed the existence of an email from Deputy DEP Secretary Jeff Littlejohn after a meeting last year that urged a "speedy issuance" of the permit.
Then DEP reversed course and denied the landfill permit for a second time, citing the risk of sinkholes on the property. Officials noted that when workers drilled into the soil in 2007 to test the strength of the land, a 4-foot-wide sinkhole cracked open.
The proposed landfill would have been about a half mile from Angelo's construction and debris landfill near the edge of the Green Swamp. The proposal first was promoted as another option to solve Pasco's growing garbage disposal problem in addition to a solid waste incinerator. It quickly drew opposition from a host of groups, including neighbors, two prominent ranchers and local governments who fear its proximity to drinking water sources for Zephyrhills and Tampa. It also spurred involvement from corporate giant Nestle Waters North America Inc., which pumps hundreds of gallons from Crystal Spring for its spring water label.
The hearing, which is being held at DEP's regional office in Hillsborough County, is expected to take up to four weeks. Administrative law judge Bram Canter will review all the evidence and rule later.
All anti-landfill groups had attorneys lined up on the same side of the hearing room this week to oppose Angelo's legal team. They are calling themselves "the Aligned Parties."
Angelo's team is smaller but includes heavy hitters such as Linda Loomis Shelley, former chief of staff for Gov. Lawton Chiles and a secretary for the Florida Department of Community Affairs. Also working on the case for Angelo's is Jake Varn, former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Regulation from 1979 to 1981 and assistant executive director for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Karen Brodeen, a former attorney for DCA.
Shelley said Monday during opening statements that Angelo's has done more to provide "reasonable assurance" of safety than any other landfill in DEP history.
"Challengers have taken what I would call a spaghetti approach and have thrown a lot of issues into the proceeding that don't go to the main points," she said.
Those include the fact, supported by 50 years of evidence from the U.S. Geological Survey, that water does not run toward their properties, she said. Also, in the unlikely event poisoned water should escape Angelo's extensive monitoring system, "that it will travel through ground and rock and groundwater for miles and we think that is not the case."
Attorneys for the opponents cited tests that showed sinkhole activity.
"The more data they produce on the site the worse the site looks for a landfill," said Doug Manson, attorney for Nestle and the city of Tampa. "There is no way to engineer a monitoring plan to capture that (poisonous water) before it goes off site."
Attorney David Smolker, who represents nearby landowner Bill Blanchard and WRB Enterprises, said the site is part of an area called the Brooksville Ridge, known for lime rock formations that resemble Swiss cheese.
"We would contend they cannot provide enough evidence that their garbage dump would not cause pollution," he said. Two mounds of groundwater at the site rise and fall, he said, meaning "pollution could go almost anywhere." Smolker also cited several warning letters the company had received from DEP regarding the two area landfills it operates. One involved spotters not sufficiently detecting forbidden waste and another was for using too little soil to cover the waste.
Arnold outlined on Tuesday how the company went to great lengths to deal with any potential problems at the site proposed for the new landfill.
He said Angelo's did more testing, and even added an extra liner that had been used in a Hernando County landfill.
He said he met with Blanchard early in the process, and the rancher expressed no opposition.
"He said it sounded like a good idea, and he wish he'd thought of it," Arnold said.
David McCrary, then director of Tampa's Department of Solid Waste, also said he had no problem with the project when Arnold met with him in 2007, Arnold testified.
"He said this was the Mercedes Benz of solid waste facilities," Arnold said. "He said he wished they had a landfill like this."
And contrary to what opponents describe, he said, the site is far from pristine. Chicken farms and an old county landfill surround the site, which sits across the street from the company's existing construction debris landfill.
Arnold said the chicken farm emits a stench that "will actually knock you back if you get too close."