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Local News

Rolling Hills Landfill Fights To Keep Permit

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Josh Morton
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Residents of Wedgewood and surrounding communities are getting action this week in response to their concerns about pollution from nearby construction and debris pits. Specifically, the Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Debris Disposal Facility is now the focus of a hearing to revoke its state permit.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection opened a four-day Administrative Hearing on Tuesday at the Old Escambia County Courthouse.

Testimony begins at 9 o’clock each morning and thus far has included state and county employees who’ve documented the infractions.

The company that operates the Rolling Hills landfill, South Palafox Properties, has been cited for a variety of violations leading to DEP’s decision in July to revoke its permit.

The order lists 8 specific violations to include contamination of surface water, failure to contain objectionable odors, and disposal of unauthorized waste.

Gloria Horning is a local activist who’s been closely following the situation.  

They were cited for lack of water monitoring, for lack of air monitoring, for lack of soil monitoring, for lack of keeping the dust down. And these are violations that have a direct health impact on all living things,” Horning said.

To recap, Wedgewood area residents began to mobilize earlier this year after the Escambia County Commission approved a zoning change in April for about 10 acres off Kemp Road for development of another borrow pit.

Members of the community, like long-time resident LaFanatte Soles-Woods, began lining up to express frustration over the smell, dust, and noise and complained of extensive health problems due to pollution at the landfills.

That’s what my concern is the children. They have a long time to try to live, but with all this in the air and in the water, they can’t live like that,” said Soles-Woods.

Soles-Woods is 12-year survivor of breast cancer and has had triple-bypass surgery. It was stories like hers that got the attention of then Commissioner Lumon May, then board chairman, who in July invited state and local officials, residents, and the media on a tour of several pits, including the Rolling Hills Landfill.

“We’re going through the neighborhood trying to get our arm around a systemic problem that has occurred for about 20 or 30 years of citizens complaining that no one has paid any attention to their concerns about their neighborhoods. So, I’m simply here based on a promise I made when I ran for office, clean and safe neighborhoods, and evaluating this neighborhood to see if it’s clean and to see if it’s safe,” May said.

Coincidental to the tour, the Florida Department of Health of Escambia County issued a health alert due to elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide near the Rolling Hills Landfill. The health alert was rescinded, but monitoring continues.

During the tour, Scott Miller, director of operations at the Rolling Hills facility, was on hand to address complaints and explain how such facilities operate.

He acknowledged that problems often arise at the pit following substantial rainfall.

In fact, Miller has said that they started to receive large numbers of complaints after the April 30th storm, which dumped over 20 inches of rain in some areas of Pensacola. He says flooding damaged the facility and eroded large sections of their pit.

At a public hearing on Escambia County’s six-month moratorium on permitting, Miller outlined a series of measures being undertaken at the Rolling Hills site to address many of the problems there.

“Corrective measures: We have started applying clay caps to areas we believe may be generating hydrogen sulfide. We’re starting to apply vinyl cover to all sides of the hill so we can have a better seal on the mound. We’ve reduced the working face down to a minimum. We’re treating areas of concern with lime and other odor-preventing agents,” Miller said.

But, those measures may have been too little, too late.

Within a week of Miller’s comments in July, DEP took action to revoke the Rolling Hills C & D permit, citing compliance issues to include the facility operating outside permitted dimensions and failure to implement the Remedial Action Plan approval order issued by DEP in 2013.

The Administrative Hearing is scheduled to run through Friday. Once the hearing is complete, the presiding Administrative Law Judge will issue a recommended order on the permit. The recommendation is usually issued approximately 30 days after the hearing transcripts have been filed. After that, the Department Secretary will have 90 days to issue a final order.

If revocation of the permit is upheld, operators of the Rolling Hills facility will be required to shut it down.

In a separate action, DEP has filed a civil lawsuit against South Palafox Properties.