DADE CITY — Ignore the politics and focus on the science, yet be sensitive to residents' feelings.
That's what a representative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the agency hopes to accomplish while deciding whether to grant a permit for a controversial landfill that could cover 1,000 acres east of Dade City.
The agency is holding a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Pasco Middle School so people can express their opinions about the landfill proposal, which the department has been studying for nearly two years.
"Everything we do is guided by rules and statutes," said DEP spokeswoman Pamala Vazquez. "(A meeting is) not anything that's required of us to do. But we wanted to make sure at some point in the process we made ourselves available to the community at large to discuss what our role has been the last two years."
The agency plays a big part in whether Largo-based Angelo's Aggregate Materials will be allowed to build a private landfill on property adjacent to a construction landfill it already operates.
The landfill would accept household garbage and other trash, though company representatives say it would not accept hazardous waste.
If the DEP grants the permit, opponents can still take the matter to an administrative law judge. Likewise, if DEP denies it, Angelo's can also appeal. The company also needs the county's approval to build the landfill.
Since the process began, DEP has been communicating directly with designated community leaders who act as liaisons. But this meeting is for everyone, Vazquez said.
Audience members will be allowed to speak. Officials evaluating the company's request also will attend and answer questions about the process.
"We're not going to try to do science on the fly," Vazquez said. How the meeting is run depends on how many people show up. A big crowd will mean time limits for speakers.
Representatives from Angelo's also will attend the meeting, but they don't plan to make a formal presentation.
"It's DEP's meeting," said John Arnold, project engineer for Angelo's, a company owned by the Iafrate family. "People won't have to listen to us. They can get it straight from the regulators. We're not there to sell anything or lobby anyone."
Opponents say they also plan to be there.
Carl Roth of antilandfill group Protectors of Florida's Legacy says his members will likely be out in force.
"They will want to be asking questions. This gives the entire community an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns."
He said people need to understand that DEP officials are limited to technical reasons to deny a landfill permit but he thinks the science is on his group's side.
"We think the geology substantiates that it's not a good place to build a landfill and hope DEP recognizes it."
The area's two state senators, Mike Fasano and Victor Crist, have both gone on record opposing the proposed landfill.
"A landfill could cause Pasco to become a dumping ground, and I don't want to see that happen," said Fasano, whose district lies outside the property. Fasano said he plans to send a representative to the meeting.
Crist filed a bill last year aimed at Angelo's that would have prevented such landfills to be located within 3,000 feet of sensitive water sources.
The proposed landfill is close to the Green Swamp and the Withlacoochee River.
Crist said he planned to be low key at Tuesday's meeting.
"Sometimes it's good to listen," he said.
Vazquez said one goal of the meeting is to reassure residents that no decision has been made.
"This is part of our decisionmaking process," she said. "There has been great scrutiny by the department because of the heightened interest in this facility. We want (the community) to know that every single rule we can apply to this facility has been applied."
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.