DADE CITY — A public meeting on a proposed wastewater treatment plant in northeast Pasco devolved into raucous shouting Tuesday evening, with residents angrily opposing any intrusion in their agricultural lifestyle.
Bruce Kennedy, the assistant county administrator over utilities, was just two minutes into his presentation on the sewer plant when a protester interrupted, refusing to be "brainwashed."
Then the floodgates opened.
"We drink the water and we don't want it," became the recurring chant among residents concerned about treated wastewater percolating back into the groundwater table.
The meeting drew about 200 residents to the historic courthouse in Dade City. Some were particularly emotional about the county working on the plans without first checking with residents.
"We had to learn about this from the surveyors," one local cattleman said.
The proposal is for a new wastewater treatment plant at the southeast corner of Christian and Powerline roads. It would replace a small package plant at a public housing complex in Lacoochee, and provide additional capacity to draw businesses to the U.S. 301 corridor.
"The idea is to stimulate growth," Kennedy said. "We need this robust system and infrastructure to show future employers and light industrial developers our potential for growth."
The Northeast Subregional Wastewater Treatment Plant would start at about 300,000 gallons a day and could eventually process 600,000 gallons — which still makes it a small facility. The average plant processes 2 million to 3 million gallons a day, Kennedy said.
The plant would sit on 10 acres surrounded by some 260 acres owned by the county. Kennedy said the site is ideal because it's heavily wooded and has room for a 600-foot buffer around the plant.
"You're not even going to see the plant," he told the Times. "Unless somebody told you it was there, you're not going to know it's there."
That idea was little comfort to residents who feared the plant could lower their property values, create noise and contaminate the groundwater. The property owners in the area depend on their own wells and septic systems and called for relocating the plant to an area with city water.
"You can stand there all night," one resident yelled at Kennedy. "We want to know, where's your boss? He needs to be the one getting his tail chewed off."
Plans to develop the site have drawn intense opposition in the past. Back in 2006, residents fought a developer's plan for 85 upscale homes on the 342-acre tract, then called Trilby Estates. They argued that was too many houses for the rural area.
Although that plan received the county's blessing, the developer later backed out, and the county bought much of the land.
Neighbors at Tuesday's meeting weren't opposed to any use of the property. But why not a park or cultural center, they asked.
The three-hour meeting ended in a stalemate, with frustration among residents and county officials alike. Ultimately, the County Commission will decide whether to proceed with the sewage plant.
Commissioner Ted Schrader, who was unable to attend the meeting, spent Wednesday answering e-mails from concerned residents.
"It certainly didn't go as expected," said Schrader, whose district covers east Pasco. "We were prepared to answer all of their concerns but apparently it got out of control. ... I will schedule another meeting with better communications and try to address these issues in a civil manner."
Times staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report.