Editor’s note: The Sun is recapping its top stories of 2012. Look for stories to follow each day, through Dec. 31.
Calusa Green’s proposal to turn a defunct citrus grove into a 554-acre garbage dump in far eastern Charlotte County didn’t gain much ground in 2012.
The county’s planning and zoning board twice voted to recommend denial of Calusa’s requests. The unanimous votes included one in September against Calusa’s proposed rezoning from agriculture to planned development, and another Dec. 10 against Calusa’s request to be exempted from the county’s Prime Aquifer Recharge Area map.
But Calusa’s attorney, Geri Waksler, expects to see the project move forward in 2013, after Calusa makes pitches to the County Commission to overcome those recommendations.
The first pitch will come Jan. 8, 2013, when Calusa argues for the proposed map change. That’s a critical step because the county’s Smart Growth 2050 plan limits impervious surfaces in that recharge area, and the landfill would be designed with an impervious liner.
If the request is approved, the commission would transmit it to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review. That review takes some two months.
The commission should approve the request, however, because Calusa’s geologist and other experts have confirmed there is no area in Charlotte County that provides significant recharge for the Floridan aquifer, according to Waksler.
County planning staffers now are working to revise the prime-recharge map to protect the surficial and intermediate aquifers instead, according to Inga Williams, a county comprehensive planning specialist. It is unlikely the revised map can be applied retroactively to Calusa Green’s application, however, Williams said.
If the commission approves the map change, Calusa then could request a commission hearing on its rezoning.
“We think the facts are on our side, both for taking Calusa Green out of prime recharge area and for the zoning to be approved in a quasi-judicial hearing,” Waksler said.
She pointed out, unlike the decision on the map change, which would be legislative, the commission’s decision on the zoning would be quasi-judicial. Those decisions must be based on “competent and substantial evidence,” not public outcry, she noted.
“(Opponents) have been given free rein to level charges and potential concerns at the landfill not backed by any court case or science,” Waksler said. “And we have provided the data and analysis prepared by qualified experts that refute every allegation that has been made.”
Some of those allegations have been leveled by Fred Hill, who founded two rural landowner groups to campaign against the landfill. Hill vowed last week to press on throughout the year to come. He cited a half-dozen wealthy landowners in the region who he said also were aligned against the landfill.
“I feel like just saying, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Calusa Green. See you Jan. 8 at the same place (commission chambers),” he said.
Hill pointed out the commission in 2007 rejected a similar proposal from Omni Waste, which had proposed a regional landfill a mile east of the 72,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve. Calusa Green would be located about three miles north of the preserve, off County Road 74. Both landfills pose similar threats to wildlife and water resources, according to Hill.
He also argues the county doesn’t need another landfill.
Calusa’s business plan targets customers from other counties and cities that don’t have sufficient landfill capacity, including Highlands County and Cape Coral, its application indicates.
A Charlotte County consultant also recently concluded Charlotte County’s existing landfill on Zemel Road has enough capacity meet residents’ needs until 2030. After that, it could be expanded to meet local needs through 2085 or even 2100, depending upon the level of expansion, according planner Williams.
And that estimate doesn’t consider a state law that mandates a 70 percent recycling rate by 2020, or future innovations that could reduce the waste stream, Williams said.
Clarke Keller, a Punta Gorda farmer, pointed out the landfill would be located near a large marsh in the headwaters of Shell and Prairie creeks. Although liners are designed not to leak, they’re not risk-free, Keller said.
“Why don’t we float a barge of garbage in the reservoir and see if it leaks?” he asked.
Hill said the landfill would blight surrounding land, which includes his own 1,600-acre ranch. He said he’s worked to establish the ranch as an estate for his children and grandchildren since 1984.
“I’m in (the battle) until my last breath and my last dollar, and you can quote me on that,” he said.