DADE CITY — The battle over a politically unpopular landfill proposed east of town raged on Wednesday, with developers challenging state officials' approval of new county rules that could block the project.
Attorneys for Angelo's Aggregate Materials are seeking to reverse a change in the county's long-term growth plan that the state Department of Community Affairs approved in February after the County Commission gave its blessing.
The change allows landfills for household garbage to be built only on land designated as "public" or "semipublic." Angelo's property is zoned agricultural/residential. Its proposed landfill would be privately owned and operated.
At this week's administrative hearing, Angelo's attorney Leigh Kellett Fletcher said the change would constitute "substantial amendments" to the county's comprehensive plan and the way the terms "public" and "semipublic" are used.
"The amendments change the scope of land use classification from being limited to uses in which the government is a major participant to an expanded list of uses that include fully private activities engaged in by citizens of Pasco County," she said.
County attorneys argue that the public/semipublic classification already exists in the growth plan and that the changes are minor.
"Rather they were simply clarifications of the Growth Management Administrator's interpretation of the existing … comprehensive plan," the attorneys wrote in a brief.
The case, expected to last about three days, deals mainly in technical issues and is being heard by the state Department of Administrative Hearings. Administrative law Judge J.L. Johnston will not rule until 30 days after the hearing or until three days after transcripts are issued.
Angelo's began seeking permission in 2006 to build a private 90-acre household garbage landfill on property off Old Lakeland Highway near Messick Road. The landfill could be expanded to cover 1,000 acres near the Green Swamp, which feeds drinking water sources of nearby areas.
The proposal has drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups, nearby landowners and public officials in neighboring cities. Last year the state Department of Environmental Protection denied the company's request for an environmental permit.
In its appeal Wednesday, the Largo-based company says the county's new rules are too vague and give county officials too much leeway to decide whether a project is a major or minor facility. (Rules are more relaxed for a project deemed minor.) Angelo's, which currently operates a construction and demolition landfill near the site, also said the rules do not specify where those types of landfills would be allowed "if at all."
The company also alleges that the rule changes are not supported by information that would guarantee enough future garbage collection sites and enough space to build new ones. The plan, which aims to protect "high-volume aquifer recharge areas," does not show the location of those areas, Angelo's attorneys added.
The county and Department of Community Affairs denied the allegations. They said that while the amendment might not have specified high volume aquifer recharge areas, the overall plan does.
The county also says the changes would not affect the level of garbage service residents receive.
The administrative appeal being heard Wednesday is one among several battle fronts involving the proposed landfill.
Along with it is a lawsuit Angelo's filed shortly after the state officials approved the plan. In that complaint, Angelo's accuses county officials of making a "concerted effort" to stop the landfill by holding up applications until officials could change the rules to make it more difficult for a landfill. The lawsuit also said the actions were done "intentionally without proper motive or a rational basis" and that the county had acted in bad faith in its dealings with the company.
Angelo's has also appealed the DEP permit rejection.
Both those cases are pending.