In a highly charged meeting Tuesday night, the Pasco County Commission rejected a West Pasco company's claim that its zoning does not limit the amount of medical waste it can burn on its Gowers Corner property. After about three hours of debate, commissioners voted 4-1, with Commissioner Sylvia Young dissenting, to limit Bon-Bar Leasing to burning 800 pounds of waste per hour.
Several hundred residents who turned out for the meeting applauded the decision.
The company had contended that an April 1989 decision by the Board of Zoning Adjustment did not place a limit on what it could burn.
New Port Richey lawyer Gerald Figurski said that neither the Planning Commission nor the Board of Zoning Adjustment attached any conditions on the facility's capacity when they considered the application for special zoning approval.
Likewise, he said, county planning officials did not raise any questions about the facility's capacity when they reviewed a site plan last year.
"I sincerely believe that the staff never considered it until this became a political issue," Figurski said. "A script is being written after the play is over."
Opponents, however, contended that at the Planning Commission meeting a company official left the impression that a small facility would be built; the official described a 37-foot-tall smokestack and the "handful" of trucks that would come and go everyday. The opponents' position was supported by county officials and others involved in reviewing the plan.
Frank Kobelski, a member of the Planning Commission, said he thought the company executive used "subterfuge" to "minimize everything he gave to us."
"He said we would not see the plant and we would not even be aware of the existence of it," Kobelski said. "If we knew what they planned to do, we would have denied it. He never would have gotten his special exception."
The controversy began in 1989, when Bon-Bar signed a contract to buy the property, about 500 feet north of State Road 52 and about 250 feet west of Kent Grove Drive, from its former owners. The sale was contingent on the owners getting special zoning approval to allow a medical waste incinerator.
At the same time, the company applied for a Department of Environmental Regulation permit to burn up to 800 pounds of waste per hour.
Infectious, or "biohazardous," waste cannot be dumped in public landfills. Florida law requires that discarded syringes, gauze, bandages, surgical gloves, blood and other bodily fluids, human tissue and other forms of medical waste be burned in special incinerators.
Bon-Bar's permit, for example, required waste to be burned at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit _ a temperature much hotter than found in municipal incinerators.
The state granted the permit. The county's Board of Zoning Adjustment, acting on the Planning Commission's recommendation, granted the needed zoning approval in April 1989. At the time, company representatives told the county that they planned to take medical waste from Pasco, northern Pinellas, western Hernando and western Citrus. The company planned to operate no more than 10 hours a day, six days a week.
In August 1989, the state lowered the incinerator's maximum permitted capacity to 500 pounds per hour.
Three months later, Bon-Bar decided to build a facility large enough to house more than one incinerator and to seek a permit that would allow two incinerators to burn a total of 4,500 pounds of waste per hour.
After reviewing the plans, Pasco zoning officials told Bon-Bar's attorney that the Board of Zoning Adjustment's approval limited the facility to burning 500 pounds per hour. In response, the company appealed that ruling to the County Commission.