Local leaders say coal ash isn’t going anywhere – but concerned Osceola County residents say neither are they.
Another stream of individuals spoke out against the importation of thousands of tons of coal ash from Puerto Rico Monday night, demanding answers from elected officials and voicing worries about toxins in waste headed to a private landfill east of St. Cloud.
Many, like Mikala Wells, did not mince words with county commissioners.
“We the people will not let you get away with this and we will continue to fight,” she said. “You have messed with the wrong county.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the material is safe and non-hazardous but doubts still linger for some residents.
Focus centered on a lack of government transparency surrounding the amended agreement, approved April 1 without public input or comment from commissioners.
“We did not have any time to express our fears or doubts about this,” said resident Kyle Jones. “We don’t approve of this. Something needs to happen, and someone needs to be held accountable.”
Some called for a contract between JED landfill owner and operator, Waste Connections, and the county to be terminated.
A group of protesters from groups like Alianza for Progress, Boricua Vota and Organize Florida staged a peaceful bilingual opposition outside the County Administrative Building prior to the meeting, demanding clarity on the issue.
Resident Loret Thatcher asked why a 50 cent per ton host fee agreement benefiting local non-profits like the Holopaw community and Education Foundation were waived for Waste Connections.
“It is a simple question requiring a simple answer,” she said. “It effectively increased the profits for Waste connections and shut out the people of Osceola who have to live alongside this waste.”
At the meeting, Thatcher and others called for the resignation of County Manager Don Fisher, who they believe provided inaccurate or inadequate information about the toxicity of coal ash to commissioners prior to the April 1 approval.
Coal ash is the burnt residue left behind by coal energy power plants. Although the Environmental Protection agency classified the material as non-hazardous in 2014, the agency’s website notes that coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic that - without proper management – can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water and the air.
Commissioner Peggy Choudhry brought forth three motions to help address citizen concerns, including better safety oversight by the county at the landfill, a third-party company to provide frequent groundwater testing around the JED site and implementation of hard agenda deadlines to prevent future “walk-on” items.
Only one amended motion passed, instructing Fisher to research costs related to a third-party water inspector and to share those findings with the board at their next meeting in June.
Last week, following intense public outcry at the last board meeting, County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb sent a letter to Waste Connections’ corporate office in Texas, requesting the corporation cease shipments of coal ash to Osceola County immediately.
But it’s unclear what this will accomplish, as the county is now locked in to a legally binding agreement permitting the private company to accept the material from out of state for three years – though the current coal ash job expires Dec. 31.
Ultimately, commissioners did not address dissolving the contract or provide an update on the status of Waste Connections’ response to the letter.