DADE CITY — It looked like a St. Louis Cardinals game. Only these red shirts weren't fan gear.
Hundreds of residents fighting a household garbage landfill that out-of-town property owners want to build near Dade City turned out in force Tuesday night to let state regulators know how they felt and to ask a lot of "what if" questions.
What if a sinkhole collapses, the folks in the red "Stop the Landfill" shirts wanted to know. What if the landfill liners leak? What if their property is worth significantly less because it's near a garbage dump? What if their water gets polluted? What if the privately run landfill company accepts trash from other areas? What if a tropical storm dumps 25 inches of rain in one day? What happens to the runoff?
"I feel this is so wrong," said Bill Blanchard, who owns land adjacent to the proposed site off Messick and Singletary roads east of Dade City. "East Pasco is a special place. There's nothing like it. This is our risk to benefit a private company. This does not pass the public interest test."
He was speaking his mind to the staffers of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who are considering whether to grant a permit for Largo-based Angelo's Aggregate Materials to build a landfill that could cover 1,000 acres.
DEP officials recently finished asking Angelo's for information and have 90 days to say whether they plan to grant or deny the permit, said Mary Jean Yon, director of the agency's division of waste management.
Yon assured the audience that DEP had not made a decision and that the meeting was part of the process. She was certain about one thing: "This will go to a hearing."
Here's how that works: After DEP announces its plans, those who disagree with the decision have two weeks to challenge it. The case then goes to an administrative law judge who decides whether DEP acted within its rules and state law. Yon said no matter what decision is reached, someone will be unhappy.
However DEP is also not the last stop, she said. County commissioners ultimately decide based on land use and zoning permits. Unlike DEP, they have more latitude to consider political concerns.
"But I'm not telling you to go pick on them," she said.
Coincidentally, her comments came the same day that commissioners approved a five-year extension to 2016 with Covanta to run the incinerator. It doesn't include an expansion but does add a metals recovery system from trash — about 1 percent of the weight of waste received — that isn't already recycled. County officials said it gives Pasco flexibility as it considers broader waste and residential recycling issues. The county is now sending its extra trash to a landfill in Osceola County.
Before the public comment part of the meeting, DEP experts explained what they look at when studying a proposal. Engineer Susan Pelz said the law requires extensive engineering calculations, explanations of how the company will line the landfill and collect leachate, the liquid runoff of household garbage. The proposal also requires an investigation of the stability of the landfill slope and sinkholes as well as an investigation of groundwater and surface water issues.
During the construction phase, DEP also inspects to make sure the landfill is being built to standards.
As for operating a landfill, the laws require trained operators and spotters to detect illegal trash. It requires employees to cover garbage each day, control odor, birds and litter and properly remove leachate. The operators also must show they have a plan to close the landfill, cover it, monitor and maintain it for at least 30 years.
All that did little to reassure opponents, who formed lines at two microphones.
Karen Pate, director of the Crystal Springs Preserve, an environmental education center, held up a petition signed in a rainbow of markers by students.
"Don't do it!! You will pollute our water!! Please!" wrote one student.
"Do not kill the fish," wrote another.
"Even a kindergartener knows that water seeps and runs downhill," she said.
Children "want you to make the right decision. They do not want to clean up your mess or your mistake."
Members of the Lafrate family, who own Angelo's, sat near the front row. But they declined to comment on the remarks being made.
"They're here to listen," said their attorney Jerry Figurski.
Also listening was state Sen. Victor Crist, whose district includes the proposed landfill and who tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill preventing it. State Sen. Mike Fasano, who also went on record opposing the landfill, sent an aide. Other listeners included Pasco County's senior planner and an assistant city attorney for Tampa, where Mayor Pam Iorio has gone on record expressing concerns about possible effects on the Green Swamp that feeds Tampa's drinking water supply.
One speaker defended the landfill. Dade City lawyer Charlie Waller, who made $6.7-million when he and his wife sold 158 acres on Messick Road and Old Lakeland Highway to Angelo's, said expanding the county incinerator would produce more pollution. He also said the cost of an expansion would be borne by taxpayers.
"I can't afford more taxes," he said as jeers followed.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.