An injection well proposed for Jackson County is awaiting approval by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, but push back from the local community is growing stronger.
The Springhill Regional Landfill is located on Highway 273 in Campbellton, Fla. Current County Administrator Ernie Padgett worked with Jackson County when they sold the land to Waste Management in the 80s.
“We knew then that out of county garbage was gonna be coming in, in which it has, but most everything dumped out there is out of county,” said Padgett. “Out of the 160,000 tons, in the last quarter of 2016, no more than 14 or 15 thousand was local. It is a big, big regional landfill.”
According to the company’s website, the landfill takes in a variety of garbage, including asbestos, biosolids, and non-hazardous municipal waste.
One item not listed, but generated from landfill operations is leachate—or as local residents call it, garbage juice. The plant currently receives, treats, and disposes of the runoff water.
Waste Management said the current landfill is receiving more garbage and leachate than it can manage. Now, it wants to spend $6 million on building a new well in the area-- one that would be more than 4,000 feet deep to dispose of the garbage juice.
But the county and many of its residents oppose the move, and worry about what it could mean for the Floridan Aquifer, their drinking water, and overall, their health.
Padgett is concerned about pollution risks.
“Our concern continues to be, and growing more on part of our commission and our citizens, that stuff is injected. How do we know it’s not going to move upward to the aquifers?”
He said his constituents “are just not willing to take the chance.”
“It’s so much unknown, and that’s why I’m personally against it-- it’s too many unknown things out there…”
Residents were taken by surprise when they found out about the well. The company applied for a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in August of 2016 and as a condition of that, had to hold a public hearing.
Waste Management bought an ad in a local newspaper, and the only person to show up to the April meeting was a local reporter.
Johnnie Roberts lives in Jackson County and has followed Florida water issues since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. She is against the well.
“I was concerned to think they had let it go so far without the public knowing about it- not advertising it, we didn’t know anything about it until they were in some of the final stages.”
“We’ve gone far and above and beyond what the law requires in that regard,” said Waste Management engineer Brian Dolihite. He said the company has cooperated with the community to provide additional information on the project.
“We have answered every question that has been posed to us with facts that are backed up by science.”
The company believes the well is the most environmentally responsible and protective option for the disposal of leachate at the Springhill Landfill.
Dolihite said it’s more protective of the ground water drinking sources than the current practice.
“A deep well has the geologic confining layers that are over 1,200 feet thick, the injection zone 4,000 feet below the surface. There’s a much greater geologic and physical separation between the drinking water source and the injection zone as compared to spray-application from the waste water treatment plant.”
Still, the county is hesitant to accept the well.
Local officials have recruited allies in other counties, organizations, and recently, the office of Florida Senator Bill Nelson.
“I’ve gotten into this issue to try to help you by bringing some attention to it from the standpoint of me trying to get the federal government through the EPA interested,” he said.
“EPA definitely does have a stake when it comes to the quality of drinking water, and therefore that is the hook that I’m using…”
Nelson met with Jackson County commissioners and city managers to get a better grasp on the problem. Part of the issue is whether the well is needed.
Waste Management said its plants in Sneads and Marianna are operating at full capacity, and that it needs the new well as another place to put leachate.
But Sneads City Manager Connie Butts told Senator Nelson that neither plants are running at full capacity. She said both are more than able to accept more garbage and leachate:
“I’m wondering where all the leachate is coming from,” she said.
In 2013, Butts signed a contract with Waste Management to take two loads of garbage a day from the company.
“What they told me then was their tank was full, and if they could get me to take two loads a day, that would empty their tank and we’d be golden, moving fine. It would keep them caught up. Then all of a sudden I find out they’re sending how much to [the Marianna plant] on a regular basis, and all of a sudden they have too much leachate they can’t keep up with… where is all the extra leachate? Are they hauling it in?”
Butts said the counties don’t produce enough garbage for the tanks to be full.
The proposed permit would only allow Waste Management to drill an exploratory well. That well is meant to determine if the geology is appropriate, and give the data to the state DEP.
Waste Management’s Dolihite said the company has no intention to drill in a place that would potentially harm an aquifer. In fact, he said they’re looking for an aquifer that is not drinkable or treatable.
“That injection zone would have to contain an aquifer with water that is not fit for human consumption.”
DEP Spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the agency is still reviewing the application, and is continuing to communicate with stakeholders to answer questions and provide information.
She said the approval process is “rigorous,” and that the company must meet environmental and human health requirements under state and federal regulations.
The company would also have to apply for another permit for each phase of construction on the well.
Still, it’s of little comfort to Jackson County.
Administrator Ernie Padgett said he, the commissioners, residents and allies are all preparing to do anything they can to keep the well out of the county.
“What I’ve been telling WM people is what I recommend they do: voluntarily back off of this request and do what they can do to make a run at scientific data and things that they think will say “this is the best alternative to dispose of the leachate.” I’m hoping that’ll happen.”
And residents like Johnnie Roberts will be there fighting until the issue comes to a compromise.
“I’m gonna fight it as long as I just can stand.”
Marianna city commissioners adopted a resolution against the well, and Nelson has written a letter to the federal environmental protection agency in support of the county’s stance.