EASTERN CHARLOTTE COUNTY — Fred Hill, an eastern Charlotte County ranch owner who has rallied a group of neighboring property owners to oppose the proposed Calusa Green regional garbage dump, now is proposing a land swap that would give Charlotte County an option to buy land from him in the future to expand the county’s existing Zemel Road landfill.
That option would negate the need for the proposed Calusa Green landfill, which would be developed in the headwater region of Shell Creek, a natural water-storage area rich in wildlife, according to Hill.
“(That is) the worst possible place you could put it,” he said.
Hill also contends local and state agencies have done too little to comment on Calusa Green’s garbage-dump proposal, or to conserve the Shell Creek watershed.
Charlotte County Commissioner Ken Doherty said he was unfamiliar with the details of Hill’s proposal. However Doherty said he’s curious about what he sees as “a void” in the state agency reviews of a regional landfill project.
“I find it interesting that the state doesn’t weigh in on it,” he said.
Hill proposes that the Florida Division of Lands, which owns land next to the Charlotte County Landfill on Zemel Road, trade to him some 600 acres. In exchange, Hill would grant the state a conservation easement on his 1,600-acre ranch a few miles north of the Calusa site in DeSoto County. The easement would bar him from the developing the property.
Hill is suggesting government agencies develop perhaps a 300-acre reservoir with marshes to filter out agricultural pollution. That would include both nutrients from fertilizer and minerals from deep wells used for irrigation.
Hill pointed out the region naturally becomes inundated with “sheet flow” during rainy seasons. That water drains into Shell Creek, which provides drinking water to Punta Gorda.
Bryan Paul, a fellow Shell Creek-area ranch owner who opposes Calusa Green, recalled working with another landowner to evaluate the Tippen Bay and Long Island Marsh area of Shell Creek some seven years ago. An engineering consultant determined the area could store some 30,000 acre-feet of water, Paul said.
The Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority later considered building a reservoir in that area, but rejected it due to cost.
Paul said he’d also like to see mitigation banks for such endangered species as scrub jays established in the area.
Hill said he recently watched some $80,000 worth of fertilizer get washed off his pastures in a rainstorm.
“Why not send this water into a large reservoir and at least pull the nutrients out of it?” he asked.
Hill said he has pitched the concept for the swap to County Administrator Ray Sandrock, area water-management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection. He’s received little response.
The DEP declined to comment on Hill’s proposed swap because officials “have not been presented with a formal proposal,” according to DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, has established a couple of programs to improve the water quality of Shell Creek, which had become degraded with mineral-laden irrigation water. However it has no conservation projects for the watershed, according to Terri Behling, water district spokeswoman.
The Calusa Green site falls within the South Florida Water Management District, commonly referred to as Softmud, which wouldn’t review that project unless Calusa requests a well-water permit, according to Phil Flood, a water-use regulator for the district.
Geri Waksler, an attorney representing Calusa Green, declined to comment on Hill’s proposal.
The upper Shell Creek region has been identified as a Strategic Habitat Conservation Area that “should be conserved” to maintain important wildlife, according a report on Swiftmud’s website. The report, the DEP’s 2007 cumulative-impact study on the Peace River, notes the Shell Creek region’s prairies, cypress swamp, pinelands, rangeland and upland hardwood forests.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also has identified the upper Shell Creek region as a “biodiversity hot spot.” That’s an area where at least seven rare or endangered species “overlap,” according to the DEP study.
“Now, are you going to jeopardize all that acreage and put a landfill in it?” Hill asked.
Hill argues “all landfills leak.” Technically, that’s true, but the amount they leak is “negligible,” if they meet modern DEP standards, according to Richard Tedder, DEP administrator for solid waste. The leakage amounts to “drops per day,” he said.
Tedder said the question of whether it’s safe to put a landfill in the headwaters of a city’s drinking-water supply is “important.”
“It’s not one we get to ask. I don’t get to ask, is that the best place?” he added. “Our task is to ask, does that project meet our technical requirements?”