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KEEP TRASH TALKING OUT OF INCINERATOR DEBATE

The developers of a proposed landfill, recycling and composting operation in rural eastern Pasco County shouldn't be afraid of a little competition and they should allow their controversial plan to be judged on its own merits.

Instead, Angelo's Aggregate Materials took a page from the political campaigns and went negative. The company helped bankroll a three-week-old corporation headed by one of the landfill's consultants with a mission to scuttle talks of expanding Pasco County's trash incinerator in Shady Hills.

It is a disservice to the public and a distraction from the true issue at hand: whether a proposed landfill operation that could reach up to 1,000 acres near an environmentally sensitive area can meet state natural resource protections and county land-use rules.

Last week, the newly incorporated Clean Air Florida Now Inc. sent mailers to Pasco County households containing misleading, irrelevant and erroneous information about the county's incinerator and asked the recipients to contact Pasco commissioners. It cites, among other things, undocumented data about power-plant emissions apparently taken from studies about pollution from coal-burning facilities; outdated cost estimates of the incinerator expansion and exaggerated financial impacts on household solid waste assessments.

It does not mention the proposed landfill in east Pasco as an alternative but says recycling and other disposal options, like out-of-county hauling, do not require capital investment and can save millions of dollars. The call for improved recycling is its only redeeming value. Otherwise, much of the information is dubious.

The county trash-to-energy plant in Shady Hills, according to its operator, Covanta Energy, meets all federal Clean Air requirements, reduces methane, and converts trash into enough electricity for 15,000 homes.

Though consultants several years ago put an early price estimate of expanding the Shady Hills plant at up to $285-million, Lee County - with Covanta as its plant operator - just completed its incinerator expansion for $120-million.

And last year, Pasco County estimated the annual household fee of $62 would remain unchanged for two decades because a refinanced bond issue left enough revenue for a rate stabilization fund. That fee estimate is separate from any costs associated with mandatory recycling and is based on a presumption the county will attract trash from other counties to fill the initial excess capacity at an expanded incinerator.

The motive for Angelo's misinformation campaign is easy to decipher. It comes because the landfill developers want the county's trash flow to help the private-sector operation turn a profit. If Pasco County moves forward with an expanded incinerator (no final decisions have been made) Angelo's loses the county's excess trash now being trucked elsewhere and will be competing with Pasco for garbage from other sources outside the county.

Last week, Angelo's project engineer authored a letter to the Times critical of the information provided by its chief citizen opponent. Keep the debate above board, urged engineer John Arnold, in a letter e-mailed Jan. 25, likely the same day the misleading flier made it to the U.S. Postal Service for delivery.

Angelo's should remember that bit of advice works both ways. The appearance of duplicity now invites additional scrutiny later as the company's permit application winds its way through the review process.

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