MARCH 2010

Florida C&D pit stirs up controversy

A permit for a construction and demolition (C&D) pit within one mile of wells that provide drinking water for the south end of Santa Rosa County, Florida was recently approved by commissioners.

Most of the commissioners voiced concerns over approving the permit, while pointing out that legally they had no choice.

Commissioner Lane Lynchard from Gulf Breeze, land-use attorney, said he did not want to vote yes. “I wish there was a way for me to vote no legally,” he said. “If we did have a right to say no, this would be an easier decision. But as I see it and as our county attorney sees it, if they met the criteria of our ordinance when they first applied, and have checked all the boxes to meet the requirements, we do not have the right to reject the permit.”

Suncoast Concrete Inc. had requested a permit to turn 7 acres of their 60-acre parcel into a C&D pit. After their request, months of discussion and petitioning by residents concerned with the drinking water followed. Fairpoint Utility Co. has six wells that provide water to the south end of Santa Rosa County and is located within a mile of the Suncoast property. Several residents petitioning the county to reject the proposal outlined potential problems with groundwater and pit leeching.

Last September, commissioners changed their ordinance to more stringent requirements and also prohibited any C&D pits to be placed south of U.S. 90, which is where this new pit is to be located. But since Suncoast had already applied for their permit, county attorney Tom Dannheiser explained to commissioners that as long as the company meets the requirements of the ordinance in place when they first applied, the county had no choice but to approve the request.

Suncoast owner Ken Bryan addressed commissioners last Monday.

“I’ve been working on this for years trying to do the right thing,” he said. “We have gone even above and beyond what we were asked to do by your engineers and by the state. If I felt for a minute that this pit was not safe, I would back away.”

The county’s ordinance for several years has required C&D pits to have liners. The state did not require liners until a month ago. Suncoast project manager Tony Mellini explained that the Suncoast pit has not only a plastic liner, as required by the county ordinance, but also a clay liner. He also explained in detail the plans to rid the pit of leeching materials, from recirculating to spraying outside the pit and allowing some evaporation.

Suncoast representatives pointed out that there previously was a hearing with an administrative judge from Tallahassee held in Milton several months ago, and the judge recommended that the state must grant the permit because Suncoast had followed all the requirements of the state. They said Suncoast worked through eight months of challenges and petitioning, showing that they were meeting or exceeding all standards and requirements of both the state and county.

“We had originally a petition with 30 people wanting to stop the pit,” resident Etta Lawlor said. “We ended up with only three going that day to the hearing. The rest got scared after they received calls or mailings from the attorneys representing the pit wanting to know what their objections were, etc. But the hearing did not look outside the pit – not at any water issues. It only looked at whether the pit itself met all the requirements of the state.”

Suncoast’s owner promised commissioners that he would do everything possible to keep the pit safe for the surrounding groundwater.

—Reprinted with permission from Gulf Breeze News