An administrative judge this week dealt another setback to a proposed private landfill east of Dade City, upholding 2009 amendments to Pasco's land use plan that could block the controversial project.
Attorneys for Angelo's Aggregate Materials, which first proposed its project in 2006, had challenged the changes Pasco commissioners made to the county's long-term growth plan.
Those changes, in part, clarified that landfills for household garbage could be built only on land designated as "public" or "semipublic."
Angelo's property near the Withlacoochee River and Green Swamp is zoned agricultural/residential.
Administrative Law Judge J.L. Johnston said in an opinion released Wednesday that the amendments met the requirements laid out in state law.
"It was not proven beyond fair debate that the plan amendments are not based on relevant and appropriate data and analysis," he wrote.
Angelo's has 15 days to file an objection.
The company is also fighting for its project on two other fronts, a civil lawsuit against Pasco County and an appeal of the state Department of Environmental Protection's denial of a permit for the landfill. Both of those cases are pending.
In what could be the most significant portion of his ruling this week, Johnston sided with the county's initial argument: That even before commissioners adopted the 2009 amendments, their plan relegated sanitary landfills to the public/semi-public land use category — which would have prevented Angelo's from creating a landfill on their property.
Angelo's had argued that was not the case, that Pasco had put in place substantial new policies to thwart the project. Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said commissioners adopted the changes to clarify the plan's intentions regarding the location of sanitary landfills.
"It's always been our position," said Goldstein.
The judge's recommended order goes back to the state Department of Community Affairs, which had already given its blessing to the county's land use changes, for a final decision. State officials are expected to sign off again on the new rules.
"We're optimistic because of the ruling," said Goldstein. "It was a nice Christmas present."
Angelo's began seeking permission in 2006 to build a private 90-acre household garbage landfill on property off Old Lakeland Highway near Messick Road. The landfill could be expanded to cover 1,000 acres near the Green Swamp, which feeds drinking water sources of nearby areas.
The proposal has drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups, nearby landowners and public officials in neighboring cities. Last year the state Department of Environmental Protection denied the company's request for an environmental permit.
If the judge's recommendation stands as expected, Angelo's could have the option of filing an application to get its property's land use classification changed to the one that would allow landfills.
Winning such approval from commissioners would no doubt be a tough political battle for the company. It would also be fruitless without a state environmental permit.
Last May, Angelo's filed a lawsuit against Pasco County, accusing officials of making a "concerted effort" to stop the landfill by holding up applications until officials could change the rules to make it more difficult for a landfill.
The lawsuit also said the actions were done "intentionally without proper motive or a rational basis" and that the county had acted in bad faith in its dealings with the company.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.