BROOKSVILLE — East Hernando residents who have been fighting a construction and debris landfill in their neighborhood for several years got some good news this week.
An administrative law judge ruled that the state Department of Environmental Protection should deny the permit for Out of Bounds Inc., citing concerns about how the project could contaminate drinking water wells.
The landfill was proposed for a 26-acre parcel north of State Road 50 and just west of Interstate 75, near the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest — an area ringed by horse farms and riding enthusiasts.
Out of Bounds applied for the DEP permit in September 2008 and spent more than a year trading questions and answers about the proposed project with the agency. In April 2010, DEP officials gave notice that it intended to issue the permit.
As neighbors sought deadline extensions to build their case against the landfill, it came to light that two wells on nearby properties were within 500 feet of the disposal area. In addition, the owner was not proposing any liner for the landfill.
Such waste disposal sites cannot be within 500 feet of a drinking water well. Experts representing the residents noted that chemicals leaching out of decaying construction materials, ranging from arsenic to benzene, would travel through the ground to the Floridan aquifer, potentially contaminating the nearby wells.
The DEP changed its mind and gave notice it would deny the permit.
Out of Bounds officials challenged the decision and sought a hearing through the state's Division of Administrative Hearings. Neighbors signed on as affected parties to push for the denial to stand. The hearing was Aug. 23.
Administrative Law Judge J. Lawrence Johnston issued a ruling Thursday. Among his findings, he rejected the Out of Bounds argument that no liner was required in the landfill. Out of Bounds had argued that the company should not be required to follow more stringent rules on lining landfills because they were passed after the date of the original application.
Johnston also rejected arguments by Out of Bounds that by accepting only clean debris, the potential for contamination was eliminated. The company could not guarantee that no contaminants would be dumped there.
Out of Bounds' contention that one of the wells was permitted as an irrigation well and not as a drinking well, and that the other was not in use, was also rejected. Johnston concluded that other evidence made it clear that the permitted irrigation well was used for drinking water and that the other is planned for drinking water in the future.
Randy Yoho, president of Out of Bounds and owner of the planned disposal site, vowed to continue his fight to obtain a permit for the landfill, in whatever legal venue was appropriate. Beyond that, he said Friday, "there's not much to say.''
The ruling was good news for the neighbors, represented by St. Petersburg attorney John Thomas.
"This is a solid recommended order,'' Thomas said. "I am confident that the findings of fact are based on competent substantial evidence and the conclusions of law.''
Going forward, the parties can object to portions of the judge's findings — both his findings of fact and his conclusions of law — critiquing one another's objections. Then all of the points and counterpoints, along with the recommended order, are forwarded to the DEP for a final determination on whether to issue the permit.
Thomas said he was confident the agency would deny the permit.
"They need a liner and to set back 500 feet from the potable wells,'' Thomas said. "Without these things, they don't really have a chance."
And, he added, "If they set back 500 feet and add the liner, it becomes unprofitable, I believe.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.