POLL: Property owners by Collier landfill question why their land offer was rejected

David Hill, left, and his brother, Edward Hill, both of Naples-based D & E Hill General Contractors, unload a trailer of debris at the Collier County Landfill near East Naples on Monday, October 11, 2010. Waste Management and Collier County officials are proposing to almost double the current height of the landfill to two hundred feet. Photo by Tristan Spinski

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI // Buy this photo

David Hill, left, and his brother, Edward Hill, both of Naples-based D & E Hill General Contractors, unload a trailer of debris at the Collier County Landfill near East Naples on Monday, October 11, 2010. Waste Management and Collier County officials are proposing to almost double the current height of the landfill to two hundred feet. Photo by Tristan Spinski

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The Collier County Commission meets beginning at 9 a.m. in commission chambers at the county government center, U.S. 41 East at Airport-Pulling Road.

— It wasn’t the smell or the height that bothered neighbors of the Collier County landfill.

But when county officials said they wanted to raise the trash hill’s height to 200 feet, Marian Gerace and Wallace Lewis were stunned.

The brother and sister own 300 vacant acres next to the landfill and they had been in “unofficial” talks for years for county government to buy the land to expand the landfill, Gerace said.

“We’ve jumped through all of the hoops with respect to doing environmental impact studies and were led to believe that we were in the final steps of putting together a deal to sell,” Gerace said in an e-mail.

A month ago, the owners received two appraisals on the land and had been awaiting results of a third when the Daily News reported that the county was hoping to be approved for a taller landfill.

When the Daily News interviewed Waste Management Director Dan Rodriguez recently regarding options for more land, he didn’t mention the talks with Gerace and Lewis, who were the original owners of the current landfill property.

For that reason, Gerace said: “Someone is obscuring the facts from the public.”

Rodriguez, however, said the brother and sister shouldn’t have been surprised.

He said he sent a letter a couple of months ago stating the county no longer was interested in their land.

“He just wants too much money,” Rodriguez said. “More importantly, there are limitations on the property.”

About a third of the property is environmentally sensitive, for which the county would have to mitigate, costing several million dollars above the approximately $20 million asking price.

Additionally, there is no guarantee that the state would allow the county to permit the land for solid waste disposal, Rodriguez said.

“Someone is obscuring the facts from the public,” adjacent property owner Marian Gerace said.

“He just wants too much money,” Waste Management Director Dan Rodriguez said. “More importantly, there are limitations on the property.”

Michael Fernandez, who has worked for Gerace and Lewis to develop the property, said increasing the landfill height may be cheaper, but the plan is shortsighted.

Expanding onto the vacant property would give the county about 75 more years of capacity, he said.

The landfill is expected to run out of space in 2039 and going vertical would add another 15 years to 20 years to its life.

The property owners were in the process of seeking permits for a business and research park when the proceedings stopped to consider the county’s landfill expansion proposal and may now move forward with the county opting out.

But the county still may need to buy some of the land.

Fernandez said the transportation department may need about 30 acres of right of way from Gerace and Lewis for road expansion, which could run several million dollars.

County commissioners are to decide Tuesday if they want their landfill operator, Waste Management, to apply to the state to increase the height to 200 feet from its current 108-foot restriction.

Rodriguez said that while this application is necessary, the landfill may never reach those heights.

“If you have the capacity, you then have the time to look at other emerging technologies and pursue them aggressively,” he said. “Just because we have (the ability to build up) doesn’t mean we’re going to use it.”

Recyclable materials from Lee and Collier counties at the Pembroke Pines facility are to be sorted and sold.

Vince Magee/ Submitted

Recyclable materials from Lee and Collier counties at the Pembroke Pines facility are to be sorted and sold.

The county already is moving down a path to divert more of its waste away from the landfill.

Rodriguez has been working with Lee County officials to consider sending some of Collier’s 209,000 tons of annual garbage up to Lee’s waste-to-energy plant, where it would be incinerated.

Also on Tuesday, Lee County commissioners will be asked to allow its staff to draft an agreement between the two counties outlining the plan.

“If it’s waste, why not just burn it?” Rodriguez said. “This could be a good partnership.”

If Lee officials approve the plan, the proposal could come before Collier officials in a few months.

On a related issue, Collier commissioners are expected at their meeting Tuesday to award a $1.4 million contract to Fort Myers-based Taylor-Pansing to build the North Collier Recycling Drop-off Center near the intersection of Immokalee Road and Goodlette-Frank Road.

__ Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/

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