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State senator removes dump proposal from growth management bill

A legislative maneuver by a developer seeking to build a politically unpopular landfill in East Pasco appears to have backfired, as the provision was rejected and a lobbyist for the company is on the outs with a veteran Tampa Bay lawmaker.

A lobbyist for Angelo's Aggregate Materials persuaded Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to sponsor a change in state law to make it easier for the company to build the landfill over objections from Pasco County officials. But once Latvala realized the intent of the provision, he angrily asked that it be removed from a larger growth management bill.

"I got duped," said Latvala, who for years represented portions of Pasco. "I have very good friends on the Pasco County Commission. There is no way in hell that I would ever, ever do anything to try to interfere with them on that issue."

The lobbyist, Matt Blair, works for a firm headed by Michael Corcoran of Lutz. Corcoran's brother is state Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Trinity Republican recently tapped as a future House speaker.

The provision would require local governments to approve development applications based on the comprehensive plan and zoning rules that were in effect at the time the application was filed. A key complaint from Angelo's is that the county changed the rules midstream by requiring landfills to be built on public or semi-public land — not the agricultural/residential parcel owned by the company.

Latvala said Blair offered the provision as a "courtesy" for the bill sponsor, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. That process is typical for sponsors who want to make minor tweaks to their legislation as it moves through committees.

One problem: Bennett did not request the provision and later agreed to remove it. Latvala said Blair "misrepresented the facts" by offering him the "craftily written" amendment.

"The guy's been banned from my office for as long as I am here," Latvala said, adding that Michael Corcoran has stopped by his office daily to apologize.

Blair did not return a message seeking comment Friday afternoon. But Jake Varn, a longtime Tallahassee lawyer who crafted the amendment, said Blair was only doing him a favor and that the provision wouldn't affect the proposed landfill.

"Angelo's is an ongoing situation," said Varn, whose firm represents the company along with several other developers. "In my view, this legislation would not have any implications in terms of anything that is going on right now."

County lawyers also said the provision wouldn't have much of an effect. They say the county's old comprehensive plan required landfills on public or semi-public land and that the recent changes only underscored that point.

"Angelo's obviously disagrees with this position, which may be why they sought the amendment," assistant county attorney David Goldstein wrote in an e-mail.

Bennett's bill also included a separate provision opposed by Pasco officials. It would have allowed large landowners to build water and wastewater facilities without having to prove the services are needed. The provision was inserted at the request of citrus company Evans Properties, whose proposed water facility was blocked by county officials over concerns it would spoil groundwater.

Both provisions are off the table this year as lawmakers endorsed a House version of the bill that didn't include the landfill or utilities changes.

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.

Even with Latvala's amendment removed from consideration, Angelo's is fighting on several fronts to build its landfill.

• The company appealed Pasco's comprehensive plan change, but an administrative law judge in December ruled in favor of the county.

• The company appealed a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection to reject a permit for the landfill. That case, also before an administrative law judge, is pending.

• The company sued Pasco County in circuit court, arguing officials made a "concerted effort" to stop the landfill by delaying applications until the county could change rules to make it harder to build the landfill. The suit charged that officials acted "intentionally without proper motive or a rational basis."

That case is on hold while lawyers for Angelo's and the county discuss mediation or a possible settlement.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

State senator removes dump proposal from growth management bill 04/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 30, 2011 10:19am]
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