In a one-page response to mounting concerns over thousands of tons of imported coal ash entering Osceola County from Puerto Rico, a private landfill company said Wednesday that deliveries will continue – but now under a tighter deadline.
It comes one week after local government sent its own letter requesting for the company, Waste Connections, to cease shipments immediately.
Shipments will continue – but faster
In a letter signed by Division Vice President Damien Ribar, Waste Connections promises to halt delivery of this particular coal ash deal on or before Oct. 1 – with a few exceptions, including “barring any unforeseen or unexpected concurrences that affect our contractual obligations.”
This shortens the previous job end date of Dec. 31 by about three months.
But the amount coming in does not appear to have changed and was not addressed in the letter.
The statement from Waste Connections was released to the media hours after two coal ash trucks headed to the JED landfill east of St. Cloud were cited for overweight violations by Florida Highway Patrol troopers.
Ribar emphasized in the letter that the landfill is legally permitted to accept coal ash and maintained that the material is non-toxic or hazardous as currently defined by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The material has been thoroughly tested to ensure that it is within the threshold of allowable constituents,” the letter stated.
What led up to this?
On April 1, Osceola government gave a green light to Waste Connections to import ash to the JED landfill from an electric company in Puerto Rico called Applied Energy Systems (AES).
The job was good until the end of the year, and officials said roughly 200,000 tons is likely to get trucked in - though nothing in the contract prevents Waste Connections from accepting more from AES.
The amended agreement between Waste Connections and the county appeared last-minute April 1 with no input from residents or discussion from county commissioners prior to approval.
News of the deal broke May 3. A series of protests, emotional county board meetings and anger from residents over a lack of government transparency have ensued.
Waste Connections says it can’t get out of AES deal
When a stream of concerned citizens confronted local leaders May 13 demanding repeal of the April 1 contract, they were told the county’s hands were mostly tied.
“To get out of that contract,” said County Attorney Andrew Mai, “we would need to get their (Waste Connections’) consent.”
That’s why Osceola County sent a letter to the company two days later.
But Waste Connections isn’t the one producing a mountain of coal ash outside a power plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico.
The AES Corporation is a Fortune 500 company that generates and distributes electrical power in 15 countries. Since 2002, when its coal-fired electricity plant was opened in Puerto Rico, it has been littering the territory with toxin-laden coal ash waste. Over the past 17 years, the Virginia-based company, which produces 17 percent of the island’s electricity, is responsible for roughly 400,000 documented tons of coal ash dumped without adequate safeguards, according to Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism (Centro de Periodismo Investigativo) and other media reports.
Mounting protests and political pressure have forced AES to find an off-island location to dispose of thousands of tons of coal ash.
AES officials said they’ve been on the hunt for a place to dump since at least November. Waste Management took about 150,000 tons off the company’s hands last year, when shipments arrived in Jacksonville, according to maritime activity records.
But then, for some reason, the deal fell through, and Waste Connections won the competitive bid with AES. Ships carrying coal ash departed the island heading to Manatee Bay port near Tampa one day after commissioners amended Waste Connections’ contract, giving the corporation a green light to move forward with AES.
Waste Connections has refused to disclose how much money its contract with AES is worth.
Now, Waste Connections’ is claiming its hands are also tied.
“The binding contract with our customer prevents us from being able to immediately cease accepting the material,” Ribar stated in the Wednesday letter.
The statement was emailed to media outlets by the county after business hours.
County officials were unavailable for comment.
Below is the letter sent to Osceola County from Waste Connections Wednesday.
Dear Ms. Grieb:
We are in receipt of your letter dated May 14, 2019 and we have carefully considered all factors and options prior to sending this response.
As we have publicy stated, our JED Landfill is a fully-permitted Class 1 landfill regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. We are legally permitted to accept coal ash as industrial waste. The material has been thoroughly tested to ensure that it is within the threshold of allowable constituents. I will refer to our media white paper and the detailed test results we have provided to Osceola County which show that the material is well below regulatory limits for acceptable material. In short, the material is not toxic or hazardous as defined by the EPA.
Additonally, after execution of the First Supplement to Amended Agreement for Solid Waste Management Services with Osceola County effective April 1, 2019, Waste Connections of Osceola County, LLC entered into a binding agreement with our customer to accept the material. The binding contract with our customer prevents us from being able to immediately cease accepting the material. However, we greatly value our longstanding relationship with Osceola County and, therefore, pursuant to the County's request, barring any unforseen or unexpected occurences that affect our contractual obligations, Waste Connections of Osceola County, LLC will cease accepting this coal ash at the JED Landfill on or before October 1, 2019.
We will continue our commitment to operating the landfill in a safe and environmentally conscious manner, in accordance with all laws and regulations . Thank you in advance and
please feel free to contact me should you have any questions.
Damian A. Ribar