Special Reports

Airport landfill site at bottom of pile

MANATEE - The county's garbage collector is eyeing purchase of a grass airstrip for a landfill, but zoning changes, proximity to the bay and possible Port Manatee expansion appear to have put Airport Manatee toward the bottom of the heap.

A Waste Management Inc. spokesman, however, raised the specter this week that if southwest Florida experiences a damaging hurricane season like 2004 and 2005, there will be a need for a new landfill for debris.

Currently, Manatee County's emergency planners have contracts with five firms to remove debris from a natural disaster, according to Gus Di Fonzo, solid waste division manager for the county.

Di Fonzo said the plan works based on the current conditions and will cover any needs in case of an emergency.

"There is a plan in place that will protect the (Lena Road) landfill," he said.

The waste disposal firms under contract have sites outside Manatee County to relocate any debris and material from a storm.

The site of Airport Manatee is off U.S. 41 north of Port Manatee, almost to the county line with Hillsborough. The airport property is owned by the Reeder family and serves as a runway for light airplanes and ultralight aircraft.

Waste Management is the contracted garbage collection company for the county. According to Frank Brunner, manager of community and government relations for Waste Management, company officials are talking to community leaders and researching the airport property.

"It will be a specialized landfill," Brunner said.

He said with predictions of a very active hurricane season, there will be a need of a landfill for debris, demolition material and yard waste.

Brunner said the company's work is in the early planning stages.

"If and when we identify the right property," he said, "we will look at when."

The property is zoned agricultural and has a future land use of light industrial.

To put any type of landfill in that area would require a change to the county's comprehensive plan, which requires approval of the Manatee County Commission.

Commissioner Joe McClash, who also serves as chairman of the Manatee County Port Authority, said he would not favor locating a landfill near Port Manatee, and that Airport Manatee would be an inappropriate site.

"The port authority has said we would assure the property around the port is reserved for related businesses," McClash said.

He pointed to Port of Tampa as an example of not planning for expansion. Tampa's port is surrounded with non-port related uses, prohibiting any growth, he said.

"I'm opposed to putting a landfill close to Tampa Bay," McClash said. "There's a potential of contamination embedded in material coming from construction sites. We've worked so hard to protect our environment."

He said there are other sites throughout the state better suited for a construction and debris landfill, such as some of the abandoned phosphate mines in Manatee, DeSoto and Highland counties.

"As long as they are not in a watershed," McClash said.

Carl Mario Nudi, staff reporter covering the City of Palmetto and northern Manatee County, can be reached at 745-7027 or at cnudi@Bradenton.com.