Southeast Gainesville residents continue to demand
by Suzmiché Morris
At a Jan. 3 press conference organized outside the Alachua County Administration Building, a coalition of southeast Gainesville residents was joined by supporters from the local NAACP and Sierra Club chapters to encourage their neighbors from the Kincaid Loop/Boulware Springs neighborhood to continue their struggle to permanently close the Florence Construction and Demolition Debris Landfill. Residents have organized around public health and environmental concerns regarding land use and the quality of the community’s groundwater and air. The landfill is within 400 feet of the working-class neighborhoods with their many homes, churches, farms, nature parks, and schools.
Community mobilization around the issue intensified in November 2022 when Southeast Landholdings (Florence Landfill) resubmitted its application to expand the landfill’s height from 35 feet to 70 feet above the natural grade of the property. A group of neighbors are preparing for a hearing before the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) to challenge the state of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) notice of permit approving the landfill to double in height.
Last fall, it appeared the Alachua County Commission was likely to vote to permanently close the landfill when the County Special Use Permit (SUP) expires on Jan. 22. However, on December 6, the landfill’s owners issued a notice to the County that they would be exercising a state-granted legislative extension (FL 252.363) that could grant the landfill an additional four to six years of operations eliminating the county quasi-judicial hearing. Yet many residents contend that keeping the landfill open would diverge from the recently-adopted environmental justice and social equity amendments that were formally added to the County’s Comprehensive Plan at a General Board meeting on December 12.
At the County’s General Board meeting on December 12, 2023, resident stakeholders simultaneously congratulated the Board on the adoption of the long-awaited environmental justice and social equity amendments as it pertains to land use and zoning decisions, and hand delivered a letter to each County Commission Board member specifying instances according to FL 252.363 where the legislative extension does not restrict County authority over a permit. One of the instances is when a permit is inconsistent with a County ordinance. Organizers argue that the legislative extension is not in compliance with the newly-adopted environmental justice and social equity ordinances.
Significant opposition in the neighborhood concerning the operation of the landfill is measurable. Currently, fifty Kincaid Loop/Boulware Springs neighbors have signed onto the letter to the County Commissioners urging the County to oppose the legislative extension and to not strip power from County seats and resident stakeholders. The landfill borders a neighborhood that is situated within a U.S. Census tract where the median individual income is $14,077 ($26,638 for households), 35 percent of residents are living below the federal poverty line (including 46 percent of children), and 40 percent are 19 or younger (22 percent are nine or younger).
“This dump is just feet away from people’s homes and farms, and across the street from Gainesville’s Historic Boulware Springs Nature Park and the Alachua County Sweetwater Preserve,” says Brackin Camp, a Boulware Springs Neighborhood resident. “The Board of County Commissioners must use their local power to stop the private owners of the dump from their shady dealings to go to any length to continue their operation at the expense of the health of the nearby neighbors.”
Organizers point towards a public presentation that the Alachua County staff made on July 11, indicating that the County has the capacity to dispose of more than twenty additional years of construction and demolition debris if the Florence landfill ceased operations in 2024. Organizers have encouraged the landfill owners and the County to focus more on expanding recycling markets because no landfill should be so close to people’s homes, schools, churches, farms, nature parks, and preserves. In an effort to meet zero waste goals, the County has discussed offering incentives and grants to attract more recycling markets to the area.
Neighbors argue a new landfill would never be permitted in this location today, therefore it shouldn’t be allowed to double in height either. The original 1994 SUP conditions limited the operation to five years with the purpose to contribute to the closure of the site: “The site’s location is inconsistent with the urban residential character and the Estate Residential land use designation of the area. By allowing filling to close and reclaim the site, this Special Use Permit helps to further Comprehensive Plan policy 1.3.2, which states that “residential development should be free from the influence and encroachment of incompatible land uses.”
In a 1998 letter from Robert Norton, Alachua County Growth Management Senior Environmental Planner addressed to the FDEP Solid Waste Supervisor Mary Nogus, P.E. Norton expressed concern over the potential of a permit modification:
“Alachua County has permitted C&D waste disposal at this site, which is in a primarily residential area as a special use, to facilitate restoring the natural grade of the property.”
When the site was operated as Feagles Fill Dirt, large volumes of soil were removed leaving the property unusable for other purposes. The Board of County Commissioners made it clear through its denial of owner requested SUP modifications that would prolong the life of the landfill, that the intent and purpose of the current SUP is to close the site and prepare it for reclamation.
Indeed, the staff report for the zoning application (ZOS 7-94) condition 7c. states “No site modification shall result in any net increase of fillable volume on site.” The Alachua County Environmental Protection Department is concerned that the prospect of ‘high rising’ the landfill is not compatible use in a residential neighborhood and is contrary to the intent and conditions of the permit.”
The Kincaid Loop/Boulware Springs neighborhood has minimally changed since 1999. How and why did the encroachment of this prolonged incompatible land use get overlooked in this southeast neighborhood? Why is a landfill slated to close in 1999 still operating in 2024? The initial SUP limited the height of the landfill to two feet above the natural grade of the property, currently the landfill stands at 35 ft, and now they intend to go to 70 ft.
Alachua County staff will be scheduling an upcoming public meeting to provide opportunity for residents and the landfill owners to articulate their respective positions. To be informed on the date of that hearing and to support the local campaign to close the landfill, please visit https://bit.ly/CloseTheDumpNow or contact email@example.com.
Suzmiché Morris has been a SE Gainesville resident since 2003.