Sen. Bill Nelson is among public officials who believe the well — to dispose of contaminated rainwater flowing from Campbellton’s Springhill Regional Landfill — could harm the region’s drinking water supply.
MARIANNA — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants a federal environmental agency to step in and quash a proposal for a company to build a deep injection waste disposal well in Jackson County.
He is among public officials who believe the well — to dispose of contaminated rainwater flowing from Campbellton’s Springhill Regional Landfill — could harm the region’s drinking water supply.
“I think there is a legitimate issue if the aquifer can be contaminated on the basis of other deep well injections that we have seen in other parts of Florida that have contaminated the water,” Nelson said at the Jackson County Administration Building.
The 4,000-foot-deep well would be for disposing leachate water, contaminated water that drains from the landfill after a rainstorm. Currently, Waste Management disposes of Springhill’s leachate water by hauling it to wastewater treatment plants in the surrounding area.
Last week, Nelson sent a letter to the acting regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to express his concerns about the well, referring to leachate water by a name residents widely have adopted — “garbage juice.”
“I’m writing to voice my concern over a proposal to use a deep injection well in Jackson County to dispose of leachate, accurately referred to by residents as ‘garbage juice,’ more than 4,000 feet underground,” Nelson wrote in the letter to EPA’s Anne Heard. “Disposing of this potentially hazardous material so close to the aquifer could endanger Floridians’ drinking water supply.”
Nelson also cited a similar well in Pinellas County that ended up contaminating the groundwater about 15 years ago.
“In the late 1990s down in Pinellas County it caused them to stop all the deep well injection and go to a complete sewer system,” he said.
However, the permitting of wells is not a job of the EPA but of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
“They do not have jurisdiction to do the permitting,” Nelson said. “However, EPA definitely does have a stake when it comes to the quality of drinking water, and therefore that is the hook that I’m using to go to the EPA. ... I’m going to try to get the EPA at least looking over the shoulder of the DEP in making sure that we’re not going to have contamination of our Floridan aquifer.”
City and county officials said Springhill also takes in garbage from other states, which might create another opening to involve the EPA. They also told Nelson on Friday the current disposal method is sufficient, saying there is plenty of capacity at wastewater treatment plans to continuing processing the leachate water.
Others voiced concern the well would become a dumping site for other nearby landfills.
Waste Management, however, believes building the well — which would cost about $5 million — will be a more economical solution than shipping the wastewater to other facilities.
FDEP also defends the wells, citing rigorous safety standards to keep the contaminated water away from safety water, citing more than 180 such wells currently in existence.
“The injection wells are required to be constructed, maintained and operated so that the injected fluid remains in the injection zone, and the unapproved interchange of water between aquifers is prohibited,” according to FDEP’s website. The department also has leak detection measures and tests all injection wells at least once every five years.
The wells also are intentionally drilled thousands of feet deeper than the region’s drinking water sources, according to the EPA.
Still, Danny Taylor, a councilman from Campbellton, said the unknowns about the well concern him.
“It’s possible the idea they’ve come up with is safe,” he said. “But there is also a possibility that it may not be. I do know that (the Floridan aquifer) is basically a limestone honeycomb.”
He added that a crack in that could cause contaminants from the leachate to pollute the water supply.
Jackson County Commissioner Clint Pate said he wants “to make sure we do everything we can do to stop it, if we can.”
Nelson previously has said despite opposition from residents and local officials, FDEP has issued notice of a draft permit to approve the exploratory phase of the deep injection waste disposal well.
“Following a troubling trend in the state, there was essentially no public engagement on this controversial plan,” he wrote in his letter to Heard. “The company seeking the permit followed the letter of the law by publishing a single ad notifying the public of the permit application, without seeking input from residents in a meaningful way.”
On Friday, Nelson said he had heard many suggestions to help draw in the EPA. He also urged the county commissioners to consider making a land-use amendment that would bar the deep-water injection wells and to contact local state legislators to make their feelings known.
“The county and city commissioners are expressing to me that everything has not been explored,” he said. “EPA doesn’t have direct jurisdiction over permitting and under Florida law, but if the Florida DEP is not looking at other alternatives, then I certainly want the EPA to meet with them and to suggest other alternatives. People are rightly scared.”