No más: JED landfill will stop importing coal ash from Puerto Rico

The JED Landfill has agreed not to accept coal ash anymore from Puerto Rico. However, it will not cease taking coal ash from around the state of Florida.

The JED Landfill has agreed to stop importing coal ash from Puerto Rico this week, according to Osceola County officials.

The County Commission earlier this year approved a contract that allowed the privately owned company to charge $2 for each ton of coal ash it receives at its landfill, which it imports from Puerto Rico.

The contract was scheduled to expire in October, but consultants for the county told the County Commission Monday that they negotiated an agreement with JED to end the dumping now.

“This week I’m going to get the termination of this agreement. Once we get that we’ve stopped coal ash,” (from outside of Florida entering the landfill), said Brian Accardo, an attorney with Manson, Boles, Donaldson and Varn.

The landfill is still permitted to receive coal ash from around Florida, just not from anywhere outside the state, according to the agreement reached last Friday.  

The deal also defined how the county could observe JED workers collecting samples for independent toxicity tests that are required by state and federal environmental regulations.

“They will not allow any testing that’s not required by DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection),” he said.

JED’s contract with the county includes provisions for inspections by the county, as well as state and federal environmental agencies. However, the company and the county differ on exactly what tests the county can conduct and when.

The company denied the county’s request to conduct additional toxicity testing and said no photographs of the landfill could be taken, said Troy Hays, an engineer with Jones Edmunds.

“If we’re firm on we want to go out there and do a physical assessment ourselves, you may have to go to court to get that adjudicated,” Doug Manson who is with the same firm as Accardo, told the board.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection determined that “there are no groundwater issues associated with the landfill offsite,” Hays said.

But there are issues with migrating landfill gas and high levels of arsenic found in a compliance well, which FDEP is reviewing, Hays said. Results should be back within two weeks, he said.

Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Grieb said she preferred to wait to see those results before discussing any further testing at the landfill.

“We did the amendment to permit, so we will cancel that so therefore after the last truck is taken this week, then they will no longer take any coal ash from outside the state of Florida,” Grieb said. “The last trucks are on their way.”

Waste Connections, the company that owns the landfill, denied the county’s request to end all coal ash dumping at the landfill.

“We asked them to totally stop and they would not. It’s within their rights,” she said.

Coal ash is the byproduct of the combustion of coal at power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency classified the material as non-hazardous in 2014 but noted that coal ash contains contaminants such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water and the air without proper management.

The coal coming into JED originates in Puerto Rico, where it’s now illegal to dump coal ash anywhere on the island.

The issue was controversial on the island. And it is here, too.

Protests against the coal ash dumping have raged on for months. Organizers of the No Coal Ash in our Trash! Osceola Fights Back! group are in the process of forming a nonprofit to assist their efforts.

More than 20 people addressed the board Monday afternoon following the presentation from the environmental consultants. A steady stream of protestors have spoken out against coal ash at nearly every County Commission meeting since May.

“This is a catastrophe waiting to happen. I don’t understand why we are not allowed to inspect. That’s in the contract,” said Holopaw resident Loret Thatcher, a member of the No Coal Ash In Our Trash! Osceola Fights Back! group.

“I don’t understand the premise of bringing toxins in for profit,” Thatcher said.

Commissioner Fred Hawkins lauded the deal in April when the board approved it saying it was a “way to generate some revenue while making a smart agreement” with Waste Connections.

Osceola County receives $2 per ton to host out-of-state debris from Waste Connections, the company that owns the landfill.

That means the county will net between $130,000 and $650,000, depending on the total amount of coal ash that’s imported to Osceola County.