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Official seeks answers on incinerator troubles

Commissioner Pat Mulieri is demanding some answers to questions she has about the problems at the county's incinerator operation.

Her first question: Why wasn't she told about them?

She hopes to get answers at the Pasco County Commission meeting at 6:30 tonight in New Port Richey.

"We as a County Commission are supposed to set policy for Pasco County," Mulieri said Monday. "We're not supposed to get involved in the nitty-gritty everyday work of the county, but this is far and above the nitty-gritty."

Mulieri said the county's phones have been ringing off the hook after a Times story Sunday about the county's incinerator operation.

The Times reported that millions of gallons of toxic rainwater contaminated by Pasco's incinerator ash has sat for months in a dump that shouldn't hold much water at all.

The incinerator is in Shady Hills, in Mulieri's political district.

State environmental regulators fear the dump could overflow, or water could burst through its berms or blow out its special liner.

If that happens, the water, which is contaminated with dangerous chemicals such as lead and cadmium, would quickly find its way into the Florida aquifer, the source of this area's water supply.

In a letter to county officials last week, Dr. Rick Garrity, head of the Tampa office of the state Department of Environmental Protection, called it an "emergency situation" that "threatens adjacent wells and water users."

The DEP contends that, in an effort to save money, the county has persistently failed to move quickly to address the problem.

But Pasco utility officials contend that the county has been doing the best it can to try to haul away and treat the contaminated water while officials search for fast, cost-effective alternatives.

Pasco officials also contend that the DEP is overreacting: Short of an excessive, unexpected and extended period of rainfall, the dump will not overflow, they say.

Mulieri is sure of one thing: County commissioners ought to have made the policy decision on whether to spend the money on an expensive solution to haul the water away, not administration officials.

"We should have been more clued in on this," she said.