BROOKSVILLE — When Hernando County commissioners toss the first bags of trash into the new cell at the county landfill this morning, their contributions will mark the conclusion of a long journey.
Utilities director Joe Stapf has been on that journey since he arrived in Hernando 21/2 years ago. He once told a top state environmental regulator who accused him of always wearing a serious face that he would smile when the landfill expansion was finally accomplished.
To celebrate, the county is hosting a ribbon-cutting this morning at the site of the new cell. Afterward, the public is invited to tour the recycling center, which is now operated by a private company, SP Recycling Corp.
The completion of the cell is important because the county has been in a race to get it finished and opened before the old cell reached capacity. But the process took longer than expected.
County utilities officials began the project four years ago, but permitting through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection bogged down. Last year, as the agency quizzed officials about the potential for sinkholes at the site, there was talk that the county might have to haul garbage elsewhere and raise the annual solid waste assessment for residents.
But Stapf avoided that problem by directing commercial haulers to take their garbage elsewhere. The county lost out on the tipping fees it collects from those haulers, but also didn't have the extra cost of handling their garbage.
Recently, he met with the commercial haulers to tell them they could soon bring their loads back to the Hernando landfill.
Technically, trash won't go into the new $6 million cell until one last letter of approval comes from the DEP, but Stapf expects that to arrive in the next few days. Then, for a while, all residential garbage will go into the new cell. Commercial loads will go into the old cell.
That is because residential trash has fewer large items that might puncture the lining of the cell and the lining is in place to protect the ground and groundwater from any contaminants. Once the first layer of trash is in, both commercial and residential garbage will go in the new cell.
The county has operated the landfill off U.S. 98, just south of the Citrus County line, since 1992. The new cell will hold 3.4 million cubic yards of waste and is expected to last 15 years.
County officials hope for a longer life and are pushing recycling as a way to keep items such as newsprint, paper, plastic and aluminum out of the landfill. In November, county voters will be asked if they would favor a change in garbage collection services that could make curbside recycling available for everyone.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.