A judge dealt another blow Friday to the company seeking to build a politically unpopular 30-acre landfill near Dade City.
The administrative law judge, Bram Canter, wrote in a 50-page recommendation that Angelo's Aggregate Materials' permit application be denied by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which already rejected the permit once based on concerns over sinkholes.
Canter wrote that without an adequate geotechnical investigation, Angelo's failed to insure that the integrity of the structural components of the proposed household garbage landfill would hold up and not pollute the environment.
Canter's recommendation is the latest development in a seven-year legal battle which has drawn opponents including environmentalists, local governments, powerful ranchers and the Nestle Waters North America company, which bottles water from nearby Crystal Springs. They say the project threatens to contaminate the nearby Green Swamp and Hillsborough River.
Joseph Poblick, the attorney for the city of Zephyrhills, called the ruling critical for anyone who drinks water. "The threat, should something have gone wrong, was just too great," he said.
Robert Thomas, CEO of Crystal Springs and a longtime rancher, said the ruling protects the integrity of rivers, watersheds and drinking water. "There's never been anyone that thought that project was a good idea except the applicant and people who were paid to think so," he said.
A spokesman for Nestle Waters North America praised the judge's decision. "Florida's aquifers and ecosystems are among the state's most precious resources," said Kent Koptiuch, Florida natural resource manager. "His wise decision to reject the proposal sends a strong message in defense of Florida's precious and irreplaceable natural resources."
Messages left for Angelo's attorneys were not immediately returned.
DEP must still make the final decision about whether to approve or deny the permit. The agency denied it in January 2012, which was a reaffirmation of a 2009 decision by the department, citing risks that a sinkhole could open below the landfill and send waste into drinking water aquifers and the Green Swamp.
Angelo's, owned by the Iafrate family, appealed and cut the initial size of the landfill from 90 acres to 30. It also argued that a further study of nearby landfills showed the risk of sinkholes was minimal.
In a statement that echoed Canter's reasoning, DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said last year that the new proposal "does not provide reasonable assurance that environmental and human health will be protected."
Despite the latest victory, opponents said they view the situation as far from resolved.
"We're certainly overjoyed and excited, but we're prudent enough to know it's not completely done," said Carl Roth, head of the environmental group Protectors of Florida's Legacy.
Times staff writers Clare Lennon, Lisa Buie and Matt Baker contributed to this report.