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Nastiness overshadows Hernando landfill's basic issues

Residents stand next to a drive on private property near Wildlife Lane, east of Brooksville. The owner of the property, who wants to build a landfill, blocked neighbors from accessing the road.

DAN DEWITT | Times

Residents stand next to a drive on private property near Wildlife Lane, east of Brooksville. The owner of the property, who wants to build a landfill, blocked neighbors from accessing the road.

When it comes to disputes between environmentally concerned neighbors and builders of landfills, I tend to side with neighbors.

But when they use words like "evil'' to describe the landfill builder, as one activist, Alison Walter, did on Wednesday, my sympathy might slide in the other direction.

And when these neighbors send out a stream of "urgent'' e-mails that aren't urgent at all, and in some cases aren't even true, it might slide a little more.

I confess, that was starting to happen with Walter and another neighbor, Paige Cool, who have teamed up to lead the fight against a proposed construction and demolition debris landfill on Wildlife Lane, near the southern edge of the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest.

But then my sympathy swung back in the other direction, when the prospective landfill builder, Jack Hamilton, built a berm and a fence across a lime rock drive that cuts through a parcel of land he is buying — a drive used by about 10 neighbors to get to and from their homes.

To make sure they got the message, Hamilton also posted a "no trespassing'' sign — the serious kind with a "violators will be prosecuted'' tag line.

"When you have hostile neighbors who are doing everything they can to destroy you, you're inviting lawsuits when you invite them on your property,'' Hamilton said.

Of course this berm will only make them more hostile and, seemingly, already has; on Thursday, Hamilton said neighbors had apparently vandalized the fence the previous night.

Which could be cause for another swing of sympathy. But to have sympathy you have to care, and by the time I heard this, I didn't.

Because the amount of time, energy and/or nastiness devoted to this matter by both sides had started to seem far out of proportion to the underlying issues.

If not proving Hamilton is evil, building this berm on such short notice is at least irresponsible.

Besides leaving residents with rough, narrow dirt roads as the only access to their property, it also has the potentially serious consequence of requiring ambulances and fire engines to take those same routes, adding about five minutes to emergency response times.

It seems to me as though this could expose Hamilton to more liability, not less.

Neighbors say his real motivation was vengeance, which, considering past events, just might be.

The county granted a previous owner the zoning right to build the landfill on the former sand mine in 1998.

Several years later, a new owner, Randy Yoho of Dade City, wanted to turn it into a motocross track, a plan many of these same neighbors opposed.

Yoho now has a contract to sell it to Hamilton, who in February received a "notice of intent'' that the state Department of Environmental Protection would issue him a permit to operate a landfill.

The team of Cool, Walter and nearly 300 other residents have produced evidence showing some types of building materials have polluted groundwater under other such landfills.

And they have managed to get two postponements for the hearing that will decide whether the permit will be granted, most recently because there is a well on nearby property that Hamilton and other investors didn't include on their application.

But I haven't seen any compelling proof that the controls the state will place on the landfill are inadequate to protect the aquifer. And maybe this isn't the neighbors' real concern.

Maybe it's trucks on the roads, the noise and dust, and the potential impact of a nearby dump on the values of homes and several businesses devoted to boarding and riding horses.

These concerns have less to do with the DEP than with the land use designation that has already been decided.

In other words, these neighbors look a lot like NIMBYs, which is short for "not in my back yard'' and applies to the knee-jerk opposition to any project that will change the character of a neighborhood.

These neighbors have every right to complain, to hire a lawyer — as they have — and to plead with county commissioners to take up their plight.

But they should realize that developers who build bigger, more destructive projects than this landfill like to call all activists NIMBYs.

It's a favorite way of belittling opponents and diminishing true environmental concerns.

The people near Wildlife Lane shouldn't give them any more cause than they already have.

Nastiness overshadows Hernando landfill's basic issues 04/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 8:13pm]
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