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DEP says it plans to deny permit for landfill near Brooksville

Okay, maybe I was wrong.

Remember the horse farm owners who organized a battle against a construction and demolition debris landfill in their neighborhood east of Brooksville?

Remember how I called them NIMBYs and said their only real message to the landfill's builders was "not in my back yard"?

Most of all, remember how I said they didn't have much of a chance?

Well, it doesn't look that way now.

The state Department of Environmental Protection previously said it intended to approve the landfill, just south of the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest. And more than a decade ago, the Hernando County Commission agreed to zone the 26-acre parcel for that purpose. (So, in my defense, the activists did have two strikes against them.)

But on Tuesday, the DEP changed its mind.

It withdrew its notice of intent to issue the permit and instead sent out notice that it planned to deny it.

This isn't final any more than the first one was. The leader of the investors who want to build the landfill, Tampa engineer Jack Hamilton, can challenge it in an administrative hearing. He said Tuesday he probably will.

Nevertheless, the horse farm owners/activists led by Alison Walter and Paige Cool definitely have the upper hand now, though it might not quite be right to say DEP changed its mind. What changed most decisively was the information in the application.

Turns out, there were two wells within 500 feet of the landfill that Hamilton's group neglected to mention in its original proposal. The DEP forbids building landfills closer than 500 feet to a drinking water supply. Hamilton said that a consultant he hired apparently overlooked one of these wells and that the other was permitted for irrigation.

It would have been hard not to be aware that the use of this second well had changed, considering a house was built on the property in 2008, said John Thomas, the St. Petersburg lawyer representing the neighbors.

"The fact that they failed to disclose this is curious at best,'' he said.

Also a factor is that, historically, the kind of landfill Hamilton's people were proposing, designed mostly to accept lumber, concrete and other materials, had been looked on as pretty much harmless — and that view is rapidly changing.

Besides objecting to the presence of the wells in its notice, the DEP said that unlined landfills across the state have been leeching unacceptable levels of harmful chemicals such as arsenic and benzene into the groundwater. These findings are leading DEP to re-evaluate state rules on landfills, Thomas said.

The agency has recommended to the Legislature that future landfills be lined with thick plastic such as that used for city and county solid waste disposal sites. It's still possible, Thomas said, that a new law requiring this will be on the books by July 1.

Maybe, as I believed, the danger presented by an old county landfill in a nearby portion of the state forest is much greater than what Hamilton has in mind. But who wants the chance of groundwater contamination from any other source?

Not me, despite the slight embarrassment that the only bunch of environmentalists I ever wrote off is just about the only group to win a fight.

DEP says it plans to deny permit for landfill near Brooksville 04/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:30pm]
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