DADE CITY - Carl Roth had waited more than six months to find out whether Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter would recommend overturning the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's denial of a landfill permit for Angelo's Aggregate Materials.
But the last 20 minutes were the most excruciating.
Roth, who lives a few miles from the proposed landfill, said he was at his computer Friday afternoon when Canter's ruling on Angelo's appeal showed up in his inbox. He could have skipped to the end and learned right away that Canter agreed with Roth and other landfill opponents. But he forced himself to read the entire 49-page recommendation from the beginning.
"I knew this was going to be a long rationale, and I wanted to be able to get a feeling for it either way," Roth said. "As I was getting through it, I could tell it was leaning our way. When I finally got to the last page, I was tickled pink."
The landfill, if approved, would be 4 miles southeast of Dade City. Angelo's first applied for the landfill permit in 2006 and twice has been denied by the DEP. The case has drawn widespread opposition from Tampa area cities, businesses and residents who fear the site's proximity to the Withlacoochee River and Green Swamp could lead to contamination of the water supply. The proposed landfill is in an area rife with sinkholes.
Canter presided over the five-week appeal hearing in late 2012. In his opinion, released June 28, Canter wrote that attorneys for the DEP and Nestlé, parent company of Zephyrhills Spring Water, presented "overwhelming evidence that the proposed landfill site is an unstable area."
Canter said Angelo's failed to prove the ground can be stabilized enough to limit the danger of damage to nearby water supplies.
If a sinkhole formed under the landfill, breeching the liner, the leachate could travel through the Floridan Aquifer, contaminate wells and reach the Hillsborough River - Tampa's main water supply - within days.
"It is logical that the quantum of assurance that is deemed reasonable by the department should be higher when there is a potential for a higher level of harm," he wrote. "Here, the potential harm - contamination of several public and private drinking water sources - is a high level of harm. Therefore, the assurance required that the harm will not occur must be commensurately high."
Canter also refuted Angelo's argument that Nestlé lacked legal standing in the case because the company's only harm would be economic if it could no longer bottle springwater from Crystal Springs.
"That claim misconstrues the law of standing," Canter wrote. "Nestlé has a substantial interest in its use of water and this proceeding is designed to prevent water contamination. The fact that Nestlé receives income from its water use is not a basis for denying it standing. Impairment of Nestlé's water use is the injury that gives it standing, not the resulting loss of income."
Doug Manson, the attorney for Nestlé, said Canter got it right. "Both sides had their day in court, and the environment was protected."
Canter's ruling is still just a recommendation. A final order from DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard is expected within two months.
If Vinyard upholds his earlier denial, Angelo's could still challenge the decision at the state court of appeals.
Attorneys for Angelo's could not be reached for comment.