Some local and state lawmakers have begun taking a political path to saying no to a landfill near Dade City, as Florida's environmental agency prepares to say yes.
The most recent example: State Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, sent a letter dated Friday to Temple Terrace officials, laying out the case against Largo-based Angelo's Aggregate Materials' project.
"The proposed landfill would be close enough that if an accident were to occur, such as a break in protective liners or the formation of sinkholes common to the area, it could have devastating consequences on the entire Hillsborough River," Crist wrote.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has signaled it intends to issue a solid waste permit for the landfill. It wrote a draft letter this month approving a permit, and a formal decision is expected Jan. 12. The project also requires a state environmental permit that still needs more information from Angelo's, a state spokeswoman said.
Angelo's wants to build the private, for-profit landfill on a site less than a mile from the Withlacoochee River. It would be near the Hillsborough River and the headwaters of the Green Swamp, both sensitive areas for drinking water supplies.
"I think that they need to hear from a larger region, not from just the east side of Pasco," Crist said of state agency officials.
The landfill ultimately could cover more than 1,000 acres and has been designed to initially take up to 3,000 tons of household waste per day. It would be near a construction and debris landfill Angelo's already operates, as well as a former landfill operated by the county.
Angelo's officials say the plans are safe and go beyond requirements for landfills.
The state agency had planned to announce its intentions last week, but delayed so the time for responses wouldn't fall during the holidays.
"The DEP asked for an extension of time so that they can perform a rigorous review. Any information — we want it in front the department," said Angelo's project engineer John Arnold.
"It sounds like they're taking a political route," Arnold said of lawmakers. "We believe the DEP is doing a technical review."
Beside state approvals, Pasco must decide whether to allow a landfill to operate at the site, based on land-use laws. County Commissioner Ted Schrader, an opponent, asked county officials and County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder last week to begin looking at whether to take a stand, although any action could be tempered by the board's potential role deciding the permit.
Schrader acknowledged Monday the board cannot take a position on land use issues related to the county decision. But he said the board can take a position on environmental issues related to the project.
"I think that we certainly owe it to the citizens of Pasco County to address those concerns, and to make sure they're warranted," he said.
Already, Tampa has balked at the project. So have Dade City and Zephyrhills officials and a slew of environmental groups.
"Bottom line is, what goes on at the top of the river affects everything down below it," Crist said Monday.
Temple Terrace — home to the DEP district office — actually beat Crist to the punch. The city council there voted 4-0 last Tuesday to oppose the landfill.
Last spring, a Crist bill that could have stopped the project died in the Legislature without a House sponsor. Crist, whose district includes the project site, hasn't filed a similar bill for the 2009 session. He has shopped for a House lawmaker to offer the bill with no luck so far. Leadership has told members to avoid controversial topics, he said.
Pasco's delegation had asked the agency in December 2007 to delay a decision as several lawmakers criticized the project.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, delegation chairman, said Monday that no repeat request by the delegation is planned as its Jan. 23 meeting approaches. But the New Port Richey Republican encouraged opponents to speak their minds at the meeting.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.