The company seeking to build a politically unpopular landfill south of Dade City has submitted a scaled-back proposal to state officials, hoping to ease fears about environmental hazards.
The state Department of Environmental Protection rejected the proposed 90-acre landfill in 2009, citing the risk that a sinkhole could open up below the landfill and send poisonous waste into drinking water aquifers and the nearby Green Swamp. Angelo's Aggregate Materials appealed that decision, and that case is pending.
In the meantime, the company cut the size of the proposed landfill by two-thirds and said further study of nearby sinkholes shows a low risk to the environment.
"The proposed landfill is located … in a geologic setting much less prone to sinkholes than the rest of Pasco County," the company says in its new plan. "All of the sinkhole data support the low to very low probability of a sinkhole occurrence at the proposed landfill site."
But opponents are skeptical about the company's decision to shrink the landfill to 30 acres. The new proposal lists the remaining 60 acres as a "potential future landfill."
"It makes it a little easier for them to get the initial permit," said Carl Roth, the leader of anti-landfill group Protectors of Florida's Legacy. He said expanding the smaller site later on would likely face less scrutiny by state officials. "That's part of the landfill game, if you will."
Roth pointed to a massive sinkhole that formed under a Hillsborough County landfill in Lithia last year. He said that landfill was located in an area deemed as a "low" sinkhole risk. The Florida Geological Survey lists the Angelo's property as a moderate risk.
Roth also criticized a decision by Angelo's to reduce the thickness of a clay liner from 5 feet to 2 feet. He said the company earlier boasted that the thicker liner would give extra protection to nearby aquifers. Now that the liner will be much thinner, he said, "it's a little bit of a comedy."
The company said in its revised plan that reducing the thickness of the clay liner will have a "negligible" effect on potential leaks. Angelo's said it can reduce the thickness because it's adding soil grouting and other ground reinforcement techniques.
Roth said he's not sure if the proposal will get more favorable treatment now that DEP is controlled by Gov. Rick Scott, who has called for a more streamlined permitting process. The department rejected the original proposal under Charlie Crist's administration.
Angelo's representatives declined to comment Tuesday, though a lawyer for the company said changes to the landfill were made in response to concerns by DEP.
Even if the company secures an environmental permit, it still faces a long battle to build its landfill. It would need to persuade county commissioners to change the property's zoning classification from agricultural/residential to public or semipublic. A 2009 change to the county comprehensive plan underscored that landfills can only be built on those types of property.
Angelo's appealed that decision, but an administrative law judge ruled in favor of the county in December.
In April, a lobbyist for the company added a provision to legislation that could have made it easier for Angelo's to build the landfill over the county's objections. That provision was yanked after an angry Tampa Bay lawmaker realized it would upset county commissioners.
The company also sued Pasco County in circuit court, arguing officials made a "concerted effort" to stop the landfill by delaying applications until the county could change rules to make it harder to build the landfill. The suit charged that officials acted "intentionally without proper motive or a rational basis."
That case is on hold while lawyers for Angelo's and the county discuss mediation or a possible settlement.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.