DADE CITY — Seven years ago, Marvin Hall returned to live on 160 acres of family land. He wanted to help his mother care for an orange grove. He wanted to enjoy living in "a beautiful, quiet, quaint area."
Not by a big waste dump, though. And certainly not by the 90-acre landfill Angelo's Aggregate Materials wants to build a mile away from his home outside Dade City.
Hall, 71, and opponents have urged the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to turn down that proposal Thursday because of the risk to the environment if the landfill fails.
But another leaky landfill has been nearby for years. And that's not all.
North of Angelo's proposed site, Pasco County owns a 120-acre dump that opened in 1970. As recently as two years ago, the East Pasco Landfill leaked poisons that can cause cancer and other illness. Arsenic, benzene, iron and ammonia have turned up in test wells, according to county reports to DEP. Methane has been emitted, too.
South of Pasco's landfill off Auton and Enterprise roads, Angelo's operates a landfill for household waste and other discards that aren't supposed to cause toxic muck — essentially less dangerous waste than the proposed landfill would accept.
Across the street, a Zephyr Egg chicken farm puts waste from thousands of hens into lagoons.
"When there are plans that aren't so palatable, they end up in rural or low socioeconomic areas," said County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who stopped a medical waste incinerator in her Gowers Corner area more than 15 years ago. "Usually when one thing gets put in there, you get others things put in there."
Angelo's officials suggest the surrounding sites, notably the county landfill, show a landfill can work in the area. However, DEP officials say the agency does not consider nearby solid waste sites when deciding whether to permit new ones.
"The proof's in the pudding," said John Arnold, Angelo's project manager, noting the nearby Green Swamp and drinking water haven't been harmed by the East Pasco Landfill. "The county's got a facility in the same area."
Leaks with a liner
However, there are enough problems at the East Pasco Landfill that DEP intends to issue a consent order requiring the county to stop or control the pollution, spokeswoman Pamala Vazquez said. The order could include fines, though the county hasn't been fined before over the landfill's problems.
While tests show pollution hasn't reached water supplies, Pasco County has begun the process to close the landfill. For years, it has taken only limited waste, such as street sweepings, and nothing from the public unless a catastrophe hits, solid waste director John Power said.
"We really don't think the landfill should be used," Power said. "We feel and think the right thing is to close the landfill."
Dade City built the original 40 acres of that landfill from 1970 to 1975 without any liner. Then the county took it over, enlarging the site over the next decade.
The East Pasco Landfill is closer to the Green Swamp — a preserve that plays a role in recharging the aquifer — than Angelo's proposed 90-acre landfill. A 1985 report raised the possibility that old sinkhole activity could pose a danger under the county landfill.
The county began limiting the landfill's use in 1991 when Shady Hills garbage incinerator powered up.
While the later sections of East Pasco Landfill were lined, they still leaked pollutants — although to lesser degree than the unlined phase, Power said. A final 13 acres needs to be capped.
"Bottom line is, I know Angelo's is pointing to it and the unlined area" as the source of the pollution, Power said. "But we have (pollution) hits in the lined area."
Once a plan is accepted by the state, Power said closing the landfill should take a year and half. It will cost at least $1 million to $1.5 million. Pasco has set aside money as state law requires, Power said. The landfill will continue to be monitored after the state approves the closing.
Sinkholes raise risk
The county's landfill gives opponents like Hall ammunition to say Angelo's proposed landfill will be a mistake. Their case: The land isn't suited for a landfill using today's standards, because of the risk from sinkholes.
A new review of Angelo's proposed landfill — prepared for Tampa Bay Water, the region's drinking water authority — said landfill runoff contaminating the Hillsborough River is unlikely because the river is more than a mile away. The landfill "poses minimal risk to water sources utilized by Tampa Bay Water," the review by consultant PBS&J found.
But in its Jan. 30 letter released Friday, PBS&J said underground, relic sinkhole features "increase the likelihood" of a collapse dropping contaminants into the aquifer. Angelo's needs to "provide more reasonable assurance" that Pasco's water won't be fouled.
That echoes complaints by opponents, who gave DEP a new report Friday by geologists and engineers saying potential sinkhole activity makes the land and landfill design unsuitable.
Previously, a state geologist said there was a moderate risk of sinkholes in the area. But that assessment didn't include the pressing weight of a landfill, attorney Chris Kise told DEP. Kise works as a lobbyist for rancher Bill Blanchard, a landfill opponent.
Vazquez said DEP staff continues to review the information submitted by both sides. Angelo's officials refused to comment on the geologists' report. But they have maintained their landfill design — which calls for a double liner and a protective layer of clay — will be safe.
Fears over pollution and sinkholes have propelled Hall's opposition to Angelo's proposal, although he worries about traffic and stench, too. In 2000, Hall said, his mother's house — located about a mile from Angelo's — had to be fixed because of sinkhole activity. Hall's own house nearby uses a well that runs 145 feet down to an aquifer.
"As far as the double liner and the various safeguards that Angelo's is proposing now, I fully appreciate that they're doing some very expensive engineering on this," Hall said. "But a catastrophe could seriously damage the whole area."
As for the old county landfill? It wouldn't pass muster today, but that shouldn't bear on DEP's decision, he said.
"What's done is done," Hall said.
Florida, he said, has too few natural areas left to allow another landfill. After all, he can taste something special in his part of the world:
"Some of the best tasting water in the state of Florida. So far."
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.