BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County has lots of company when it comes to looking for ways to get rid of its trash. Just about every county in the region is in a similar bind.
So, it only makes sense for the counties to get together and talk about their options. Efforts are now under way to gather county administrators, attorneys and commissioners from the region for a meeting in mid August for formal trash talks.
Citrus County Commissioner Gary Bartell recently contacted Hernando Commissioner Rose Rocco to see if Hernando was interested in discussing possible solutions to their shared problems.
"I've always believed there would come a day when these counties would not be able to keep digging holes in the ground and putting garbage into them,'' Bartell said.
Hernando commissioners have directed deputy county administrator Larry Jennings to speak to Citrus officials.
Rocco said the idea has merit, noting that central Florida counties already band together to plan development, transportation and water issues.
"We're all having the same problems with our landfills,'' Rocco said. "If we can save money across the board, that could be a good thing and worth looking at.''
Landfills are costly, but so are other alternatives such as large transfer stations and incinerators. For single counties, such costs can be prohibitive.
"It's an extremely expensive endeavor to come up with a solution by ourselves'' as a single county, Bartell said. "We need to be looking at the long term and most economical way to serve all of our citizens.''
Bartell is hoping for a response from the counties surrounding Citrus, including Hernando, Levy and Marion, as well as Lake County, which has an incinerator in need of more fuel.
Hernando utilities director Joe Stapf also sees the value of serious discussions. Informal conversations on the bigger picture issues of solid waste disposal with officials from all the surrounding counties have been going on for some time, he said.
Hernando County officials expect to open bids this month on a project to build a cell at the county landfill on U.S. 98. They have been working with state environmental regulators to get permission to use the first two sections of the cell when they are completed.
Hernando has formal agreements with both Pasco and Sumter counties to take overflow trash if the new cell isn't ready by the time the current cell is deemed full, Stapf said.
Citrus is also coming to the end of the life of a cell in the county's landfill. Officials have talked about building a transfer station and finding another landfill or incinerator in the area to take their garbage.
Stapf said that once the new cell is open, Hernando could take in more trash than is generated in Hernando County alone. One long-time landfill employee estimates the facility could take on 75 to 100 percent more trash than it now collects.
While it would use up the 15-year estimated life of the cell much more quickly, adding garbage from another jurisdiction might ultimately save Hernando property owners some money on their annual solid waste assessment, he said.
The landfill runs with fixed costs that the county's property owners pay for each year. If the costs were spread out over a larger number of users, the cost per user could go down, Stapf said.
"It's the classic benefit of economies of scale,'' he said.
Regional discussions might be tricky because rules from one community to another might be slightly different and there would have to be give and take on the part of the various communities because "not any one community can drive the train at any time,'' Stapf said.
But he said the idea is still worth exploring if county leaders think it's worthwhile.
"All you can do is invite some dialog to find out if it's doable,'' Stapf said. "If we can reduce our costs, we should.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.