OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Florida lawmakers and Osceola County residents are expressing concern about the decision made by county commissioners to allow the import of more than a year's worth of coal ash from Puerto Rico for disposal in the county.
On April 1, the Osceola County Commission approved the agreement with Waste Connections of Osceola County to accept and dispose of coal combustion from coal-fired power plants in Puerto Rico, according to the meeting agenda.
The coal will be imported from April to December, according to the agreement, and disposed of at JED Disposal Facility in St. Cloud.
Per the agreement, the county will receive $2 for every ton. The county expects 325,000 tons or 650 million pounds which would equal to $650,000.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. If not properly disposed of, the ash can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water and the air. There are federal regulations that landfills that dispose of coal ash must meet, according to the EPA.
Commissioner Fred Hawkins, whose district falls in the landfill area, addressed concerns at a commissioners meeting that was held on Monday.
Hawkins informed the board and attendees he is landfill certified and took a class many years ago in landfill operations.
"We would never allow anything to come in we thought would harm our citizens," Hawkins said. "It is considered a special waste along with contaminated, sludge and bio solids. They are all tested at the site of origin before it is ever transported to the disposal facility to make sure they're not toxic or hazardous."
Florida Rep. Mike La Rosa, whose district includes Osceola County, said his office has been receiving complaints about the decision since Monday's commission meeting.
Rosa said in an email to News 6 the decision to allow the import of up to up 650 million pounds of coal ash is concerning because “potential toxic material traveling through our town on a routine basis.”
“There is some confusion regarding the State of Florida and the role of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Let me be clear, the State of Florida is not in the business of creating such contracts for Osceola County.”
Damian Ribar with Waste Connections said the JED landfill is a Class 1 landfill that is properly permitted via the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
"As part of our permit we are allowed to accept industrial waste which includes coal ash," Ribar said.
"All leachate is collected onsite and disposed of at FDEP permitted facilities," Ribar said. "We anticipate the amount of ash to be received to be less than 10 percent of our total annual volumes."
That's not good enough for Mary Montsdeoca who lives a few miles from the landfill.
As a cancer survivor, she's concerned the coal ash could spread and cause health issues.
"You have to put it on trucks or you have to put it on a train or you have to put it on something. You're going to scatter that stuff everywhere," Montsdeoca said.
She hasn't attended commission meetings in the past, but after the recent news of coal ash making its way to her area, she plans to make an appearance.
Waste Connections wouldn't comment on how much coal ash has been dumped at the landfill since the contract was approved.
However, a representative with the county confirmed one load has already been delivered since April 1, but didn't know the amount connected to the delivery.