Outright canceling a contract that allows a private landfill company to import thousands of tons of coal ash from Puerto Rico to Osceola County is not an option.
But investigating the contract for potential violations is, said the county’s attorney.
On Monday, Osceola County commissioners announced plans to hire an environmental lawyer to investigate the entire scope of an April 1 amended agreement between Waste Connections - private owner and operator of the JED Solid Waste Facility east of St. Cloud – and the county.
That agreement lets Waste Connections import unlimited amounts of coal ash between now and the end of the year.
Two weeks ago, commissioners approved $200,000 for a third-party consulting firm called Jones Edmund to independently test ground and surface water around the landfill.
This week, environmental attorney Doug Manson was tapped to review JED landfill reports from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection along with other permits and documents to make sure Waste Connections is in compliance.
Residents, who have been protesting for weeks and showed up again to Monday’s Board of County Commission meeting, saying they’re worried about heavy metals and toxins inside coal ash that may impact the environment.
But coal ash isn’t currently classified as hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency. And the JED landfill is permitted by the state to accept it.
So, unless Waste Connections violates its contract in some way, local government says it can’t stop the company from dumping more coal ash produced by a different private company called Applied Energy Systems in Puerto Rico.
Osceola County Attorney Andrew Mai said expert council is being brought in because the investigation is outside the daily scope of his office.
Mai said the investigation would explore every aspect of the contract for possible violations.
“It’s important to make sure they’re (the landfill) doing what they’re supposed to be doing and that the citizens aren’t in harm’s way,” said the county attorney.
The county will pay an hourly rate for Manson’s services, and the final cost will come out of the county attorney’s budget.
Edmund Jones is expected to come on board by Monday, with Manson soon to follow. Mai said the two groups would begin work immediately.
Mai added that any findings from the water testing or contract review would be brought to county commissioners.
Mikala Wells, a Holopaw resident, spoke at Monday’s County Commission meeting along with her husband, Jamie, and their 11-year-old daughter. Mikala has been a vocal opponent to the coal ash deal, which she thinks may negatively impact the environment and her family’s health.
Wells said after the meeting that recent steps by the county are positive – but still not enough for her.
“I like the idea of an environmental attorney and them looking into everything, but I think more needs to be done,” she said. “The point is, time keeps passing by and the residents are still unprotected.”