Home team had field day over proposed landfill

On the final day of Major League Baseball's regular season, we'd like to point to the unheard of batting average of .930 compiled in Dade City earlier in the week. That is the result when you go 40 for 43.

The lineup had a distinct advantage on its home field at the Pasco Middle School auditorium: Nobody played defense. Well, one guy tried. That was attorney Charlie Waller, whose bumbling recalled Marvelous Marv Throneberry.

The Department of Environmental Protection umpired the contest five days ago. The field in play was the massive Green Swamp on Pasco's eastern border that is the origin of four rivers, including the Hillsborough River, a source of drinking water for the city of Tampa.

It was a rout. Forty-three people stepped to the microphones over two hours and 40 of them opposed a proposal before the DEP to turn rural land near the swamp into a landfill. Two others speakers worked for government agencies and offered no opinions. Then there was Waller, who sold his land to the landfill developers for $6.7-million and told the crowd he couldn't afford to pay higher taxes that will accompany an expansion of the county trash incinerator.

Marvelous Marv never booted one that badly.

Let's be clear. Pasco County commissioners have not voted to expand its incinerator. That decision is a few years away as the county is now trucking its excess trash to Osceola County.

And, here's what Waller can't afford: $62, the annual household fee to pay for the incinerator. In 2007, Pasco County estimated the $62 charge would remain unchanged for two decades because a refinanced bond issue left enough revenue to stabilize the per-household cost. The estimate is based on a presumption the county will attract trash from other locales to fill the initial excess capacity if indeed it decides to expand the incinerator.

Waller did try to connect with the audience by noting his infant grandson drinks formula made with well water drawn just 11/2 miles from the site. Okay, but that's a distance 50 percent greater than the 1 mile between the proposed landfill site and the Green Swamp.

Despite the overwhelming sentiments of the anti-landfill crowd, it's not like anyone hit the ball out of the park. Many talked of traffic concerns from a non-stop convoy of trash trucks heading to and from the landfill. Except that issue is outside the DEP bailiwick. Others worried about odors with one speaker quoting Lynyrd Skynyrd's That Smell.

More appropriate were the economic fears from potential damage to the crops on neighboring agriculture property by birds drawn to the landfill. But, the most prudent point came from the leadoff hitter, Bill Blanchard, who owns the adjacent property and has sold the development rights to the Southwest Florida Water Management District via a conservation easement.

DEP and Swiftmud have spend a combined $115-million to protect the Green Swamp, Blanchard said, so why would the state consider permitting a landfill a mile away.

Mary Jean Yon, director of DEP's Division of Waste Management, didn't have an answer, but promised to confer with the land management side of the agency before the state rules on the permit application. She also noted the proposed landfill site is beyond the setbacks required by state rules.

Taken together, it likely means public objections about the proximity to the Green Swamp won't do the trick, but proximity to other protected land is worthy of more review.

What she didn't say, but what is a matter of public record, is that despite concerns from the city of Tampa about an adverse affect on the Hillsborough River, the regional water supplier, Tampa Bay Water, has not objected to the landfill site.

(Besides passing DEP scrutiny, the proposed landfill must pass muster at a future Pasco County Commission hearing and vote on a land-use change before it can proceed.)

DEP can't play to the crowd and simply deny the application to appease the audience. Such governing usually comes from elected officials. To do so invites rejection of the DEP decision by an administrative law judge.

No matter what the agency decides, there will be an administrative hearing, Yon predicted, because the losing side (either developers Angelo's Aggregate Materials or members of the general public) are expected to appeal.

In other words, plan on extra innings.

C.T. Bowen can be reached at bowen@sptimes.com or 727-869-6239.

Home team had field day over proposed landfill 09/27/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 29, 2008 3:41pm]

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