State regulators have rejected a proposal to build a controversial private landfill south of Dade City. But the long-range complications over where Pasco County puts its trash won't go away that easily.
County officials will watch closely to see if Angelo's Aggregate Materials — which had requested permits to build a 90-acre dump for household garbage — will appeal the state's decision, handed down Thursday. The company declined to comment Friday, but earlier in the week hired lobbyists who said they had long-term contracts.
The denial from the Department of Environmental Protection at least stalls a dogfight between the company and county officials, who would have to decide whether to grant a land-use change to allow the landfill.
Pasco officials are reluctant to approve a privately run landfill, as county policy discourages dumps in favor of incinerating garbage and recycling. With stiff neighborhood opposition to Angelo's landfill, the county was bracing for a battle that could head to the courts.
But not anymore.
"This now doesn't create a distraction for the county and especially the commission as we begin to address the solid waste issue," said County Commissioner Ted Schrader, who fought Angelo's project. "We're still shipping solid waste out of the county to alleviate the excess waste issues."
Where's the trash?
Pasco County usually produces more garbage than its Shady Hills incinerator can handle.
Tens of thousands of tons of garbage have been shipped to an Osceola County landfill, costing $1.2 million last year alone. Pasco's recycling program has struggled to gain a residential following to dent those shipments.
County officials have moved toward expanding the Shady Hills incinerator, even as Angelo's officials pitched their landfill as a less expensive alternative.
DEP's rejection of Angelo's permit request last week gave the county a breather. But so did something else:
The tanking economy and housing market have created less trash for Pasco to dump. And less urgency to expand the incinerator.
Waste is down 18 percent from last year, mainly due to less construction debris being created, solid waste manager John Power said Friday.
The county expected to send away 61,000 tons of extra waste to the Osceola landfill over the first year. Instead, Pasco barely met the minimum requirement of 30,000 tons. And only 5,000 tons of garbage has gone to Osceola this year.
Expansion plans for the incinerator?
"I would say they're on the back burner right now," said Bruce Kennedy, assistant county administrator for utilities, echoing statements made by Schrader and Commissioner Michael Cox.
Lull won't last
The County Commission approved the deal back in September 2007 to send excess garbage to Osceola County for up to 20 years.
At that time, Pasco officials were in a tight enough spot that some initially expressed openness to Angelo's project.
The estimated $350 million cost to expand and run the incinerator over two decades became part of Angelo's pitch for why its private landfill would be better. The landfill would save residents from paying for the incinerator expansion.
But residents soured on the idea of a private landfill. And then top county officials did, too.
"Landfills are forever," Kennedy said Friday.
County officials also said shipping out waste to another community was better policy — even as Schrader and others criticized Angelo's for seeking to bring trash to Pasco from other places.
The incinerator still has brimmed at capacity, roughly 1,050 tons a day. But it has run more efficiently in recent years, further reducing the pressure to expand the incinerator, Power said.
But county officials acknowledge the lull in trash flow is temporary. They count on growth — and garbage — to rebound.
Like Angelo's, the county will be asking DEP for a permit. Pasco needs someplace to put its incinerator ash as the existing cells fill up.
Its proposed answer: Build more landfill space in Shady Hills.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.