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Environmental violations likely will cost county $25,000

BROOKSVILLE — Several violations cited by state environmental regulators at the county landfill and two other utility sites will likely cost Hernando County more than $25,000 in penalties.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has fined the county for three instances of noncompliance with rules and codes, violations that county officials say have now been fixed.

The landfill problem came to light when a state inspector visited the site in mid July and said there was not enough dirt covering the active face of the landfill. Some of the garbage there was exposed and in other places pieces of trash were sticking up through the dirt and there were puddles of water.

The other violations concern two of the county's 56 fixed generators installed at county sewer lift stations. Each generator has an above-ground fuel tank, and the citations detailed that the fuel tanks at a lift station in the rail park at the county airport and another on Barclay Avenue near Spring Hill Drive were not properly registered and that proper notices of their installation were not given.

One of the two was not installed according to the manufacturer's instructions, and neither had a method in place for monitoring any fuel leaking between the two layers of the tank.

For the newer tank at Barclay, that was true from May 2007 until January 2008. For the older tank, that was true since late 2002.

County utilities director Joe Stapf, who didn't come on board with the county until January 2008, blamed some of the fuel tank issues on the fact that the fuel tank delivered to Barclay Avenue was not the correct tank.

The size of the tank determines what level of monitoring is necessary and county officials didn't realize that the tank was large enough to require extra monitoring.

Once the problem was discovered with that tank, county workers realized that there was another tank of similar size that shared some of the same issues.

The DEP originally tried to impose a fine of $93,000 for the violations but county and state representatives met several times to work through the issues and finally settled on a fine of $17,550. The county was also given the option of paying instead a $4,110 payment to the state for administrative costs and agreeing to do an environmental enhancement or environmental restoration project valued at $20,160.

County officials are looking at the in-kind project as a good choice and have made several proposals to the state on what that project might be. They include spending the money on the Peck Sink acquisition, buying a trailer-mounted, diesel-powered water pump for stormwater removal or using the money to help eradicate nonnative Brazilian pepper plants from Pine Island.

"If we're going to have to pay," Stapf said, "if we can keep it in the county, that's a better arrangement."

He expressed concern that the fact the state slapped penalties on the county made it seem like utilities workers were not doing their jobs but he praised the professionalism of his staff and vowed to do better.

"We didn't willfully and knowing violate the rules. We tried to maintain compliance," he said. "In no case was anyone put at risk. The fuel tanks did not leak. No trash blew off the site" of the landfill.

But Stapf said he understands from the regulator's viewpoint that any of those things could have happened and that's why there are such strict rules to protect the environment.

"We've just simply have to achieve 100 percent all of the time. Ninety-nine percent isn't good enough," Stapf said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Environmental violations likely will cost county $25,000 01/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 7:24pm]
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