DADE CITY — Nancy Hartline lives with her husband on five acres in rural Blanton. They moved there 10 years ago, specifically to get away from the hustle and bustle in Tampa. But she and dozens of her neighbors now worry about the potential damage from a planned county wastewater treatment plant in their community.
"I feel like I have a little piece of heaven where I live now," she said. "I hate to give up that lifestyle."
Her husband Karl Hayward added: "We understand why you want to build it. We just don't think it belongs in our neighborhood.
The couple and roughly 100 others attended a town hall meeting Thursday night at Pasco Middle School to protest the planned facility off Powerline and Christian roads. County officials gave an hourlong presentation about the plant and answered questions for another two hours.
It appears few minds were changed.
"It dumps an ugly, urban problem into our beautiful rural neighborhood," said Omar Gonzalez, who co-founded the citizens group Sewer Treatment Opposition Project. His group also gave a 30-minute presentation with concerns about the project.
The meeting with several top county administrators and engineering contractors was held to assuage concerns after a September meeting at the historic courthouse in Dade City turned raucous. This time, both county officials and residents praised the crowd for airing their concerns in a civil manner.
The plant would be built on 278 acres of county-owned land that was once an orange grove and now is filled with pine trees. One of the parcel's best attributes, officials argue, is the size. It allows for a 600-foot tree buffer on all sides of the plant. People passing by, they say, won't even know it's there.
Ultimately the County Commission will decide whether to proceed with the project at this site. Planning and engineering would take about a year; construction would take another year.
County utilities director Bruce Kennedy said the eventual capacity of the plant would be 600,000 gallons of wastewater per day. All but one of the county's seven other treatment plants can take 3 million gallons per day. He also said the plant would be built with the latest technology to control odor and aerosol contamination.
"This will be one of the best wastewater plants that quite honestly we've ever had," he said.
The county currently has a small package plant in Lacoochee that serves the Cypress Manor public housing complex and Lacoochee Elementary. The aging plant that cannot be expanded, Kennedy said. The new plant would serve redevelopment in Lacoochee and Trilby, along with future business sites along the U.S. 301 corridor. That includes a 300-acre planned employment center north of Dade City.
John Hagen, executive director of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said basic infrastructure is vital to attracting businesses to that area.
"They will not come to this area without sewage treatment plant systems," he said.
A few audience members supported the plan. Most were from the Trilby-Lacoochee area cheering the possibility of nearby jobs to revive Pasco's poorest community.
"I see no objection to this plant whatsoever," said Herb Green of Trilby. "To me it would be a great improvement."
The county assembled a panel of top staffers, engineers and the regional water facilities director for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Jeff Greenwell, the DEP official, said he lives within 500 feet of a large master lift station. "I would have no problem living next to this plant," he said.
But residents still had concerns. "There should be another property with less impact to the community," said Robert Pennington, who lives on Burke Road north of the site. Another man said the county should locate the plant in the Green Swamp, where no one would be bothered by potential smells or noise.
That area receives special state protection because of its environmental benefits. "We are prohibited from constructing a plant in the Green Swamp," Greenwell said.
Several residents said the county doesn't have a good track record of containing smells. Hartline asked if the county had odor control devices on the Wesley Chapel plant off Interstate 75 north of State Road 54. If they are in place, they clearly aren't working, she said.
Kennedy said odor controls at that plant are outdated. The problem is worse because waste travels for miles in collection pipes before it gets to the plant. "We can and will address what you're describing," he said.
Regarding the proposed plant, Kennedy said, "most of the time the facility will function and we will manage the odors."
"It's hard to be perfect all of the time," he said. "We will take steps to make sure we are good neighbors."
Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.