DUNEDIN — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has threatened a demolition and recycling company with a $10,000 fine for illegally dumping solid waste materials at the former Nielsen Media Research property.
A letter to Greenway Recycling Inc. and its sister demolition company, Sonny Glasbrenner Inc., says a Feb. 15 inspection determined the companies used roughly 180 cubic yards of ground-up construction and demolition debris to fill in low areas created when Glasbrenner demolished three buildings on the property at 375 Patricia Ave., off Scotsdale Street.
According to the DEP, the material did not pose a risk to human or environmental health. However, state rules say it should have gone to a landfill instead.
The owner of the two companies, F. Pate Clements, calls the incident an "honest mistake" by a new employee who loaded material from the wrong pile at the companies' shared yard on 126th Avenue in Clearwater.
"Instead of it going to a landfill, he loaded this material to go to this job," Clements said. "It was genuinely a mistake by a new driver. I'm not passing the buck: These people are supposed to be trained. . . . We had not done a good job of educating him."
Clements said the "solid waste" was comprised of particles of discarded construction and demolition material, including rock, paper and insulation. However, according to a DEP report, a one-gallon sample of the material contained two batteries.
The materials have already been removed, Clements said, and the company is anticipating that a final state inspection set for next Wednesday will clear its name.
"We put into place some better safeguards against this happening in the future," Clements said.
DEP wouldn't comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
The mistake occurred, Clements said, as Glasbrenner was nearing the end of three months of work to demolish the 211,000-square-foot former Nielsen complex.
The buildings had been vacant since 2005, when Nielsen, best known for its TV ratings service, sold the largest single property in the city to a developer and began transferring nearly 2,000 employees to other offices.
Wells Fargo, which now owns the 23-acre Dunedin property, hired Glasbrenner to demolish the deteriorating buildings.
Clements said demolition represents only a portion of the services offered by his businesses, which have contracts with about five Pinellas cities. The Glasbrenner arm also crushes concrete and asphalt, then sells it to other companies that turn it into new products, such as base material for roads.
Greenway, in addition to collecting and selling plastic, glass, paper, cardboard, wood and metals to other recyclers, re-purposes construction and demolition debris from Glasbrenner projects. The leftovers are run through shakers, screens and magnets to recover the recyclable portions.
"When the screens vibrate, it shakes small product out so the recyclables don't have a lot of dirt or rock in your recycled cardboard, paper, plastic or wood," Clements said.
That fine dirt and rock material, Clements said, is what the new driver loaded and hauled to the Nielsen site instead of clean fill dirt that the company stockpiles for demolition project use.
An offense report released by the DEP on Thursday chronicles a site visit by a special agent and interviews with three drivers, who each said the different piles were not marked and their loads were not inspected. The agent wrote that he was "unable to sustain or prove any criminal intent" by the company and recommended several future prevention methods.
The criminal investigation by the DEP's enforcement division is closed. However, the agency's regulatory department is still determining whether to levy the fine or mandate corrective action.
Clements said since he received the warning letter, workers have been removing about 750 cubic yards of material from the Patricia Avenue property "to make sure we got it all."
Under new company procedures, Clements said drivers will pick up material from piles that are clearly labeled with concrete signs. And as each truck leaves the yard, the driver must notify the scale house, which will confirm that the right product is headed to the right destination.
According to the DEP, Clements' businesses have had only one other violation. In that 2010 case, Greenway was fined $3,500 for operating without a permit. Clements, who said he mistakenly thought he could operate the Greenway recycling center out of the Glasbrenner facility he bought seven years ago, briefly closed the business and reopened with the correct documentation in July.
Dunedin wasn't involved in hiring the companies for the Nielsen project. But the city has its own contract with Greenway for disposal of brush as well as construction and demolition debris. The yearlong contract, signed in October for up to $200,000 worth of services, piggybacks off a contract the company has with Largo.
Dunedin Public Works director Doug Hutchens and solid waste director Bill Pickrum said the city will continue using Greenway, which is licensed by Pinellas County as a debris disposal site. The men said Dunedin chose Greenway after observing how cost effective its service was for Largo. Pickrum said Greenway's disposal fees are about a third less than other competitors.
"Is this a single event? Is it a chronic, systemic problem? Nobody knows until the DEP does its investigation," Hutchens said.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.