St. Cloud has been processing leachate – or coffee-colored garbage juice – from the J.E.D. landfill for a decade.
But that was before massive amounts of controversial coal ash shipments began arriving from Puerto Rico last month.
Now, at least two St. Cloud politicians want to terminate a contract with the landfill and stop accepting leachate.
Waste Connections, private owner and operator of the J.E.D. landfill, has been put on notice that if coal ash changes the characteristics of its leachate, St. Cloud will stop accepting it immediately, according to the city’s public works director May 23.
But simply exiting the contract now may come with legal ramifications.
Leachate is the fluid percolating through a landfill and is generated from liquids present in the waste and from outside moisture, including rainwater. The material that runs off is collected in pools at the landfill before a third-party company trucks it over to a transfer station St. Cloud bought from the company in 2009.
That’s when the city agreed to accept leachate from the landfill for the next 20 years.
Two 12,500-gallon tanks operate at the transfer station that receives the leachate. It gets put into a holding tank and then into a lift station, according to St. Cloud Public Works Director DiAnna Rawleigh.
At one point in time, the facility was getting six to seven loads a day amounting to 21,000 to 22,000 gallons.
Currently, about 13,000 to 15,000 gallons are coming in.
The amount that’s delivered depends on railfall, Rawleigh said. And there hasn’t been a lot of rain lately.
Waste Connections is charged $5.38 per 1,000 gallons of leachate delivered. It adds up to roughly $1,000 of revenue for the city each month.
“Not much,” Rawleigh said at a May 23 City Council meeting.
On May 23, City Council members wanted to know how often the leachate quality is tested and what it is testing for.
The landfill supplies the city with leachate quality reports every three months. By law, they are only required to do so twice a year, Rawleigh said.
Councilman Chuck Cooper asked where the material would go if St. Cloud no longer accepted it.
Melbourne, possibly, Rawleigh said, noting that she is still checking on this.
Rawleigh said the city hasn’t run into any problems with the company yet. There’s been no reports of leaks or spills at the off-loading location either, she said.
Council Member Linette Matheny suggested the contract be canceled.
She pointed out that Waste Connections only contributed $70,000 to the transfer station in 2009.
“So, it’s not like they have millions of dollars in infrastructure that they invested,” Matheny said. “In an abundance of caution, why don’t we just cancel it?”
Cooper and Matheny expressed concern over current testing, but Rawleigh noted leachate is tested for things like suspended solids and dissolved oxygen because those things can negatively affect the wastewater management facility.
“It wasn’t looking at what other items are in there (like contaminates), it’s more about is it going to shut down our system and render is useless or ineffective for a while,” Rawleigh explained.
Rawleigh said she would see if the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recommends any additional testing or has concerns about St. Cloud’s ability to handle the leachate.
The city attorney said language in the contract allows St. Cloud to terminate the agreement – without consequence - if the city thinks coal ash is having a negative effect on the leachate and reclaimed water.
But since there’s still a decade left to the contract, St. Cloud may be left holding the bag on the remaining value if it terminates the agreement now without reason.
“You can cancel any contract you’re a part of,” City Attorney Daniel Mantzaris said. “There may just be consequences to canceling that contract.”
Even if it was cancelled, the facility has already accepted tons of coal ash, Mantzaris pointed out. That material isn’t going anywhere, and will continue to mix with current leachate, even if the agreement is terminated.
Still, the contract could be re-negotiated to impose stricter or more frequent testing by Waste Connections.
Mantzaris said he couldn’t say if canceling the contract was a good or bad idea from a legal perspective until he reviews it in-depth.
Matheny seemed unsatisfied with the explanation.
“Let’s protect the citizens and our water resources and just cancel the contract,” Matheny said.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Hughlett Crumpler voiced concerns about incoming coal ash shipments to the J.E.D. landfill, which is located outside St. Cloud city limits.
The resident took aim at Fred Hawkins Jr., the county commissioner whose district includes the St. Cloud area and whose family has ties to the landfill.
“When was the last time one of you picked up the phone to Mr. Hawkins and asked him what he’s done for St. Cloud lately?” Crumpler said. “I don’t see him doing much for us. I see him doing a lot to us.”
No councilmembers addressed her comment.