NEW PORT RICHEY – Pasco County commissioners put the brakes on expanded trash hauling to an out-of-county landfill, saying its solid waste department showed poor planning in seeking last-minute authorization on what should have been a thoroughly vetted policy decision.
The commission pushback came after the recent departure of the county's long-time solid waste director John Power. He resigned in January after objecting to behind-the-scenes discussions about forming a regional solid waste authority to transport future county trash to a private landfill in Sumter County.
"I'm not a fan of us continuing to put garbage in the ground,'' Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr. said Tuesday.
Other commissioners raised concerns about escalating costs, timing and a lack of information.
Assistant County Administrator for Infrastructure Cloyd "Flip'' Mellinger did not attend the meeting. In his resignation letter, Power criticized Mellinger for pursuing a landfill for future trash disposal in contradiction of the county's comprehensive plan and a 1990 ordinance focusing on burning, not burying garbage.
The question before commissioners Tuesday was about spending $400,000 to send trash to the ACMS Inc. landfill in Sumter County during planned maintenance of the county's trash incinerator in Shady Hills. Nearly a year ago, the county approved a $119,000 contract with the landfill, also known as Heart of Florida Environmental, for "as needed'' transport and disposal of waste. The cost equates to about $26 per ton.
In November, the board increased the contract by $480,000, an expansion blamed on disposing of debris from Hurricane Irma in September. The agenda item for Tuesday called for paying another $400,000 "due to continued population growth, a planned maintenance outage of the waste-to-energy plant, and continued disposal of Hurricane Irma waste.''
Commissioner Mike Moore wondered how $400,000 would pay the landfill costs through Sept. 30 when it cost $480,000 for only three months. Commissioner Ron Oakley criticized the staff for seeking a "spur of the moment'' commission decision instead of presenting a long-term plan. Wells echoed the sentiment.
"It's just poor planning to bring this to us and put us on the spot,'' said Wells. "You cannot put this on us last-minute.''
Under questioning, Allan Biddlecomb, acting solid waste director, said his department would need approximately $50,000 to cover landfill costs during the temporary outage of the trash plant. Commissioners still declined the expenditure and asked for the item to be discussed at their next meeting on March 14.
Directors of ACMS Inc., include former Citrus County sheriff and state Sen. Charlie Dean. His son, Charles Dean Jr., is company president. A major backer has been Mellinger's former employer, Marion County, which agreed in 2011 to pay $20 million to landfill owners to bury the county's trash there for 30 years. It equated to a guaranteed disposal rate of $8 a ton over the life of the deal.
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The Pasco County incinerator, run by the private company Covanta, opened in 1991 and can process 1,050 tons of trash daily. Last year, Mellinger warned county commissioners that without a substantial increase in recycling, trash would outgrow the incinerator's capacity, and it likely would need to be expanded over the next seven years. Mellinger said cost estimates for the expansion range as high as $190 million.
Ten months ago, commissioners authorized a 10,000-home trial run to increase curbside pick-up of recyclable materials from twice a month to once a week. The pilot program has yet to materialize.
In an previous statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times, Mellinger called reliance on the incinerator a 30-year-old commission initiative for when the county had a smaller population.
"I disagree,'' Wells said about Mellinger characterizing the policy as out-dated. "I'm not OK with this. I'm not going to vote in favor of this.''
Instead, he asked why the county couldn't use its own solid waste landfill space in Shady Hills. Biddlecomb said the landfill hadn't been used since 2015, and his department faced an "operational challenge'' because it lacked personnel and equipment to run it, even temporarily.
Commissioner Jack Mariano asked if the incinerator could be used more efficiently.
"You better have a presentation ready'' for March 14, he told Biddlecomb.
The issue, he said, deserved a "full, open discussion for what's best for our citizens.''
Reach C.T. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2