County commissioners request more info on coal ash to be disposed in Osceola

County commissioners agreed to a contract April 1

Osceola County residents say they're concerned about coal ash being imported from Puerto Rico to a local landfill.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Osceola County commissioners are now taking steps to gain transparency with Waste Connections, a private company that operates JED landfill when it comes to coal ash dumped there from Puerto Rico. 

County commissioners agreed to a contract April 1 that allows Waste Connections to receive coal ash from the island. 

The county receives $2 for every ton collected. 

To date 44,000 tons have been received and placed at the JED landfill in St. Cloud. 

After community concern and questions, county commissioners decided Monday to send a letter to Waste Connections asking for more information surrounding the contract. 

Frank Rivera is from Puerto Rico, but is concerned about the coal ash contaminating areas in Osceola County. 
"When I heard that they were bringing ashes, coal ashes to Osceola County bells rang off," Rivera said. 

The contract is through Waste connections and AES, a power company in Puerto Rico. 

The contract length is from April 1 to Dec. 31.

In an April email, Danielle Slaterpryce, the county's public works director said the facility is expected to receive about 350,000 tons of coal ash. 

However, in a meeting Monday, Commissioner Fred Hawkins said that number is actually about 140,000 tons, but per the contract there is no cap as to how much material can be taken in. 
Representatives from both companies joined Hawkins on Monday to address the continued concerns about the contract. 

Elias Sostre is the operations manager with AES Guayama, Puerto Rico. 

He has worked at the plant in Puerto Rico for more than a decade and tried to calm health concerns regarding exposure. 

"If this material was something dangerous which it's not clearly stated by the EPA we would be the one showing the symptoms and we are not," Sostre said. 

Chris Ruane, region engineering manager with Waste Connections, said the landfill has a double liner and because this, that creates a barrier to prevent coal ash from leaking  into the water system. 

"The liner is about two and a half to three feet thick when we assemble it and construct it. It's tested as we install the plastic liners," Ruane said. 

Rivera wants to see proof and said, "even if it's lined again what about the wind. What about a hurricane."

John Bigalbal, managing director with Global Fuel AES said the material is treated before it leaves Puerto Rico. 

"Prior to the ash leaving the island, we condition it with water. That controls dust. We have water sprays on the conveyor belt that's basically dust mitigation as it's loaded into the vessel. The material is conditioned prior to the vessel. When it's offloaded at the port they add additional water on it and it gets put into temporary storage. We try to move it as quickly as possible as in Florida heat it is going to evaporate pretty quick. So, we continue to add water to it to keep dust down and we installed truck washers at the port before they come in," Bigalbal said. 

Lisa Nason, spokesperson for Osceola County said EPA inspects the landfill regularly and was at the site last week. 

Requests have been made to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for inspection and testing reports at JED landfill.