Earlier today, Osceola County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb sent a letter to Waste Connections of Osceola County LLC requesting that they cease receiving coal ash from Puerto Rico at the JED Landfill in Osceola County.
The question is… how will Waste Connections react, and what recourse does Osceola County actually have?
On April 1, Osceola County gave Waste Connections, owner of JED Solid Waste Facility east of St. Cloud near Holopaw the go ahead to import an unlimited amount of coal ash from Applied Energy System (AES), a coal production company in Guayama, Puerto Rico, to Osceola through the end of 2019. The county stands to make $2 per ton of coal ash added to the JED Landfill. Although coal ash being brought to the JED Landfill is not a new thing and is currently being done throughout the United States, the fact that Osceola County is currently accepting coal ash from Puerto Rico is something not ringing well with residents of Osceola County, specifically those who live in the surrounding areas of the landfill.
As the news begin to spread around Osceola County via social media that the importing of coal ash from AES in Puerto Rico was approved by Osceola County and was to be shipped in from Puerto Rico and then trucked to the JED Landfill, it became evident that the county needed to respond to the public’s concerns, and quickly.
A press conference was called for Monday morning with the purpose of informing the community through the media that according to the DEP and EPA, the coal ash that was being added to the JED Landfill was not deemed hazardous and would not pose a heath risk to those living near the landfill.
Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. led the press conference along with Osceola County Public Information Officer Lisa Mason. The press conference was shown LIVE on Positively Osceola’s Facebook page which included Joe Laubenstein, Director of CCR Management, Waste Connections (Woodland, TX), John Bigalbal, Managing Director, Global Fuel – AES, and Elias Sostre – Operations Manager – AES Guayama, Puerto Rico.
The main content delivered to the media that morning was that the coal ash being brought to the JED Landfill was safe and that all needed precautions were in place at the landfill to ensure the safety of nearby residents. Throughout the press conference the main focus of the questioning from the media was centered around public and environmental safety, what financial gain was there for anyone, including the county, and the terms of the agreement. Those concerns were echoed in comments that were posted on Positively Osceola’s Facebook LIVE during and after the press conference.
Later that same day, at a packed regular Osceola County Board of County Commissioners meeting, the community came with the intention of questioning the decision that allowed this importing of coal ash from Puerto Rico. Numerous concerned citizens boldy spoke to the commission, requesting answers about the agreement between Osceola County and Waste Connections, owner of JED Solid Waste Facility. Citizen after citizen requested that the board reconsider their decision and to immediately terminate the importing of coal ash to Osceola County, causing Commissioner Peggy Choudhry to make a motion to end the agreement that was approved by the board on April 1. Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. had abstained from the initial vote due to a conflict of interest with his family and their relationship with Waste Connections.
Osceola County Attorney explained to Commissioner Choudhry and the other Commissioners present that upon the affirmative vote on April 1 the County entered into a binding agreement with Waste Connections and the only way for the importing of coal ash from Puerto Rico to the JED Landfill was if Waste Connections were to agree. Event with the overwhelming amount of disapproval of the decision to allow coal ash into Osceola County, it was obvious to all those in attendance in the board meeting that it was highly unlikely that the coal ash importing will end until December 31.
After Commissioners Viviana Janer and Cheryl Grieb shared their concerns and opinions about the agreement and how it initially came about, they joined Commissioner Choudhry in her frustration with what seemed to be no option in ceasing the coal ash importing into Osceola County. Commissioner Peggy Choudhry then made a motion to take action on what the board could do legally, according to County Attorney Andrew Mai, and that was to send a letter to Waste Connections requesting that they consider ending the importing of coal ash importation from Puerto Rico into Osceola County.
This morning, Cheryl Grieb sent that letter to Waste Connections requesting the addendum to the agreement as voted on by the commissioners.
Osceola County Public Information Officer Lisa Nason wrote, “Following public comment by more than two dozen citizens, the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners agreed to send a letter to Waste Connections, the private owner/operators of the JED landfill in Holopaw, seeking an update to the conditions of the April 1, 2019 contract addendum which allows the landfill to accept coal ash from Puerto Rico.”
Positively Osceola will update this story as we receive new information.