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Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
Editorials

A decision that protects our drinking water

Published:

It shouldn’t have taken nearly seven years for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to reject a proposal to develop a landfill so perilously close to the Green Swamp that drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people would have been threatened in the event of a sinkhole.

But considering DEP’s uneven record under the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, the third and final denial of Angelo’s Aggregate’s permit application by DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard this week is a major victory. Science — and common sense — prevailed over a developer’s deep pockets.

From the Pasco County communities closest to the project east of Dade City, to the city of Tampa, residents, government officials and many business leaders were vocal in their opposition. We’re hard-pressed to recall such a similarly strong consensus in Pasco, and these folks should be commended. You don’t put critical drinking water supplies at risk to help a developer make a lot of money.

Clearly, Angelo’s Aggregate picked the wrong spot to want to locate a garbage landfill. The edge of the Green Swamp and the Withlacoochee River is no place for a dump — especially when studies and testimony showed that the area is unstable and sinkhole-prone.

Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter left no doubt in his ruling, which Vinyard adopted to formally deny the application: “Overwhelming evidence” was presented that the project was targeted for an “unstable area.”

“Here, the potential harm — contamination of several public and private drinking water sources — is a high level of harm,” Canter wrote in his ruling, explaining a legal standard applicable in the case that Angelo’s could not overcome.

Should a sinkhole open and breech liners, drinking water wells and the Hillsborough River — Tampa’s chief source of drinking water — could have been contaminated.

It is reckless to even want to develop a dump in this environmentally sensitive area, with potentially devastating consequences, no matter the safeguards planned.

Although this lengthy battle is over, the war isn’t. Angelo’s, which filed its first application with DEP in late October 2006, can appeal the decision to a state appeals court.

As we’ve said before, if Angelo’s truly wants to be a good neighbor, it will find a suitable use of its land — one that doesn’t endanger water supply and the environment. But if Angelo’s appeals, the appellate court will have a lengthy record upon which to finally put this matter to rest.

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