BROOKSVILLE — Delays by the state in permitting the opening of a new section of the county landfill mean the dump is rapidly running out of room.
If the landfill runs out of space, which the county estimates could happen by the end of the year, Hernando would have to shut down the entire operation.
That would cost government more than $1 million and could lead to boosts in residential trash rates from $63 a year to $104.
Those dire predictions were spelled out in a letter last week from county Utilities Director Joe Stapf to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
County Administrator David Hamilton said Tuesday the letter was needed so that DEP understood the consequences of further delays. The County Commission also needs to hear the details so members can decide how to pay the bill. A workshop with the board is slated for next month.
Delays in issuing the permit are raising the prospects that the existing landfill will run out of space before the new cell is operational. If that happens, and the county closes the landfill, Stapf said, Hernando would still have to pay more than $1 million for leased equipment and other expenses. It would also cost workers their jobs.
Stapf is looking at hauling garbage out of the county and has been talking to Pasco officials about using the incinerator there. But such a process is expensive and he estimates that the cost per month could run $420,000.
"That's money we do not have in the budget,'' Stapf said. That could lead to enormous increases in residential hauling fees.
Utilities officials planned to open the new landfill cell based on the time lines the county had experienced permitting the last two cells. But DEP has sent the county back four times during this permitting process to provide more information. It is nearly two years since the original permit application was sent to the state.
In late January, after all the state's questions were answered, a top DEP official called the county and the process was delayed 60 days to allow the Florida Geological Survey staff to review the county's plan to line the landfill cell, Stapf said.
Previously, the agency had rejected the county's plan to use a double liner saying the cell needed more protection since the area has a high probability of sinkholes. In the latest design, a triple liner is offered as the solution, Stapf said. The liner keeps the materials in the landfill from sinking into the ground and contaminating it.
Hamilton signed off on the delay because the county has been working well in cooperation with the DEP. But he also wanted to be sure they understood the financial implications of the delay.
Now, the county waits for a response from the agency and watches as the existing cell of the landfill creeps closer to its capacity with every truckload of garbage that arrives.
In the meantime, the county recently bid a job to move approximately 900,000 cubic yards of dirt, opening the hole for the new cell so the county can move with ahead with construction as soon as it gets its permit. That bid is expected to come before the County Commission at an upcoming meeting.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.