On Wednesday, the head of Osceola County government sent a letter requesting Waste Connections to halt coal ash shipments from Puerto Rico to its private landfill.
The move follows an outpouring of opposition by residents over an April 1 agreement approved without public notice or discussion.
“The commission believes it is in the best interest of the public that the waste not be brought to the County,” wrote County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb in a letter to the president of Waste Connections, the massive corporation that operates the JED Solid Waste Facility east of St. Cloud.
But it may be too little, too late.
The letter is one of the few options still available to the county.
“As chairwoman of the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners, I can assure every resident in Osceola County that our board and staff would never take any action that would jeopardize the safety or well-being of our treasured residents or environment,” Grieb said in a prepared statement on Thursday.
On a phone call Thursday morning, Osceola County Attorney Andrew Mai said the county has no authority to stop the shipments from coming to the county, and will need to work with Waste Connections to do so.
“From a legal perspective, that’s really the only avenue I can see for the county,” he said.
However, intervention from the state or federal government could resolve the issue, he added.
“I don’t know exactly what their options are (state and federal), but I do know they control coal regulations,” Mai said.
Waste Connections had previously never accepted coal ash from out of state before. The amended agreement approved by commissioners April 1 changed that.
It gave the company a green light to take on a job until Dec. 31 importing an unlimited amount of coal combustion residuals from Applied Energy Systems (AES) in Puerto Rico.
The agreement is locked in for three years. Amended agreements are usually good for seven years, but according to a clause in the original agreement, if resolution cannot be reached: “The County may terminate the contract by providing written notice to the Contractor (Waste Connections) not less than three years to the termination date.”
Waste Connections would need to get board approval before extending the coal ash job or taking on any other out-of-state coal ash deals, according to Mai.
“It’s like a contract for an apartment or a mortgage or a car loan,” County Public Information Officer Lisa Nason wrote in an email. “Once it’s signed, it’s a legally enforceable contract. You can’t just declare that you want to terminate.”
Breaking that contract could result in costly legal action from Waste Connections.
So, instead, the county decided Monday to send a letter in hopes that Waste Connections’ willingly abandons the deal with AES. At time of publication, Waste Connections had not issued a response.
To read the full letter, click here.