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Regulators plan to reject Polk County waste plant

State environmental regulators said Tuesday that they will deny an application for what would be the state's first hazardous waste processing plant, a $100-million facility planned for Polk County. Opponents of the plant applauded the decision by the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER).

"How sweet it is!" said Grady Whitaker, president of the Concerned Citizens League of America in Bartow.

The project's organizers were dismayed.

"We were somewhat surprised," said Judson Hill, one of three managing directors of the project. "We were working diligently with DER."

The DER based its notice of intent to reject the project on two primary issues: the threat to a family of bald eagles nesting on the site and possible risk to the human health and the environment, according to a release issued Tuesday.

"They have not given us adequate assurance that Florida's environment would be protected," said Richard Garrity, director of district management with the DER.

"God planted those eagles there for us," Whitaker said Tuesday.

The plant, which would burn and otherwise treat 70,000 tons of hazardous waste each year, was proposed two years ago by Florida First Processing, a company based in Vienna, Va.

Company officials plan to build a superheated kiln and treatment plant, which would burn or neutralize toxic, caustic and flammable waste, on an 83-acre site about 11 miles south of Mulberry.

The DER, which must license the facility, criticized Florida First's application.

According to the DER, the plant's emission control system is not the best possible; Florida First failed to prove that sinkholes would not cause problems; and company officials have not adequately reviewed how contaminated ground water at the site would affect the project.

Nevertheless, Hill said, "There are no issues which we think are irreconcilable." He added that he wishes the DER had simply granted the company more time to work on the application.

Florida First can appeal the DER's decision, but Hill said it will be several days before the company decides how it will proceed.

Florida First's application in May 1989 was considered a godsend by some Florida officials who were worried that the federal government would withhold Superfund toxic cleanup money if the state did not come up with a waste management plan.

The state now ships all its hazardous waste, such as dry-cleaning fluids, acids, inks and other deadly chemicals, out of the state.