BROOKSVILLE — Utilities director Joe Stapf had good news for the County Commission on Tuesday.
In a phone call last week, state environmental regulators told county officials that a pre-permit for a landfill expansion may soon be on the way.
While that isn't as good as having a permit in hand, it was encouraging to Stapf, who has been struggling to find a way to deal with Hernando County's garbage as the landfill nears capacity.
The permit progress was just one trash-related issue that Stapf brought to the board in the informational workshop, including countywide mandatory trash collection, expanded recycling and new technologies to dispose of waste.
First up was the landfill expansion. Stapf has warned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that if the agency continues to stall on issuing a permit for the new cell at the landfill, Hernando officials will have to significantly boost solid waste fees for property owners.
With the landfill expected to be full by early 2010, Stapf said, Hernando would soon have to take the expensive step of hauling garbage out of the county.
State regulators have been concerned that the landfill's new cell of the is in a sinkhole-prone area. They have pressed the county to show how its system of lining the cell would protect groundwater.
Stapf told commissioners that the steps the county will take to satisfy state concerns and secure the pre-permit are not much more than what the county planned to do anyway.
Once a pre-permit is issued, there is a mandatory period to allow public comment before the arrival of the actual permit. But the county is not waiting. Recently, officials bid the job of digging the hole and Stapf said that a local bidder submitted the lowest amount. That project will come to the commission for approval later this month.
Stapf's best estimate for when the new cell might be constructed, permitted and ready to go is fall of next year.
He didn't have specifics on hauling Hernando's garbage elsewhere, but some current haulers might be willing to take their loads elsewhere or choose to go elsewhere if the Hernando tipping fees rise.
Stapf pointed out that there were fixed costs at the landfill and again, the county may have to look at the fees charged to property owners. Cost cutbacks were other possibilities, such as cutting the landfill's operation to 40 hours a week from 60. No decisions have been made on any of those issues.
Having a larger recycling program or spreading the overall costs across more customers by expanding mandatory garbage collection could help, he said, but opinions vary on just how much.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins said one of the keys is to get information to citizens so they understand that costs would come down if there were a wider area of mandatory garbage collection.
But he and Commissioner Rose Rocco said that such a move would require a referendum so that the citizens could have a say.
"We just can't keep doing things the way we've been doing them,'' said Commissioner John Druzbick.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.