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Change in Pasco County comprehensive plan could affect private landfills

DADE CITY — Jerry Figurski was in Cape Cod, enjoying a little R & R.

But sudden news of a proposed change in the county's long-term growth plan interrupted the Pasco attorney's vacation.

"I was shocked and taken aback," said Figurski, who hopped a plane back to Florida for a one-day trip to fight for the status quo in front of the county's top planners on Thursday.

At issue: a draft of a change in the county's comprehensive plan to reclassify household garbage landfills as public/semipublic land uses, limited to land that is classified the same way on future land use maps. The upshot of such a change could make it tougher for Figurski's client, Angelo's Aggregate Materials, to build a private, for-profit landfill south of Dade City. The property Angelo's owns is now classified agricultural/residential, a designation now allowed for landfills.

"Is this an attempt to halt private sanitary landfills in Pasco County?" Figurski asked.

Angelo's Aggregate Materials of Largo wants a landfill that could eventually cover 1,000 acres near the Green Swamp and Withlacoochee River. Some neighbors, east Pasco organizations and the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace have opposed it, warning of traffic, sinkholes and threats to drinking water.

In February, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection rejected the company's request for permits to build and run the landfill. Among the reasons was the 2007 sinkhole — mentioned only in the fine print of an Angelo's report but singled out by state officials as a key flaw in the project.

Angelo's has appealed the state's decision. An administrative law judge is set to hear the case in September. Figurski's whirlwind trip to Dade City also shows the company considers the matter far from dead.

The county planners, a group called the Development Review Committee, moved the proposed changes forward Thursday but agreed to give them further scrutiny.

In addition to classifying landfills as public/semipublic, the changes also propose limiting landfills near current or future well fields, and in "high volume aquifer recharge areas, wellhead protection areas and wetlands consistent with the other elements of the comprehensive plan."

The County Commission will have the final say over whether they are enacted. So far, commissioners have avoided taking a hard stand on the landfill because they could end up deciding whether to grant land use changes. They did agree, however, to ask Tampa Bay Water to take another look at possible effects on water supply after a previous review found no problems

County Growth Management Administrator Sam Steffey said last year that he planned to raise the bar and make Angelo's obtain an amendment to the long-term growth plan as opposed to a permit. But shortly before retiring in April, Steffey wrote in a memo that he didn't want to be a part of any county review, saying he didn't want to be called into court years after his retirement if the matter ends up in a lawsuit.

He urged his county administrator, John Gallagher, to hire an outside firm to make a final decision on whether the county needs to change its plan. Steffey's replacement, Richard Gehring, did not attend Thursday's meeting.

A chief landfill opponent cheered the county's latest proposal.

"This puts more due diligence on the private companies," said Carl Roth, a spokesman for the antilandfill group Protectors of Florida's Legacy. "They'll have to do site selection studies, rather than just buying some land that's off the radar screen and saying to longtime residents, 'Hey, we're going to put a landfill here.' "

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Change in Pasco County comprehensive plan could affect private landfills 07/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 9:13pm]
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