Hurricane Ian debris brought to Gulf Coast landfill despite being closed since 2007

Published: November 15, 2022 6:38 PM EST
Updated: November 15, 2022 10:22 PM EST

A giant pile of storm debris is growing at a landfill that neighbors fought to close years ago.

At least one commissioner isn’t happy his fellow commissioners voted to allow the hurricane debris to go to the Gulf Coast landfill.

If you take a drive down State Road 82 and make a right past Colonial Boulevard, you can’t miss the piles packed higher than a car at the newly reopened Gulf Coast landfill.

Debris from Hurricane Ian was brought to a landfill. CREDIT: WINK News

With so much of the debris being taken to this landfill, some people are wondering, why this particular landfill?

“We had to make what was a really tough decision to use a landfill that had some permitted space left available in it … and to use that permitted space and to use that landfill,” Brian Hamman, a Lee County commissioner, said.

So, Lee County still had permitted space at the Gulf Coast landfill, a spot that had been closed since 2007.

Lee County commissioner, Cecil Pendergrass, made it clear he disagrees with fellow commissioner Hamman.

“Well, I think it was a bad decision based on the fact that we were told 17 years ago, the residents in the neighborhood, that it was closed,” Pendergrass said. “And the city and county allowed for building and development to be built around the landfill with the perception to the general public that bought the property that it was going to be closed forever.”

Pendergrass echoed the concerns of the people who live near the landfill.

“I’m concerned about the air quality, water quality when there’s rain. There will be runoff from that exposure. So, I mean, sure, there’s construction debris going in there, but there’s also drywall. We don’t know if there’s any Chinese drywall or asbestos in the insulation that’s going there,” Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass told WINK News there are other places where Lee County could ship the debris. Two examples of where the debris could be shipped to are the Lee County and Hendry County landfill.

WINK News learned there’s a great effort from the county for transparency in everything being done.

Tuesday’s meeting was to hear all grievances from people living near the landfill and hopefully calm any fears they may have.

People did come loaded with questions and signs of protest, but it seemed like residents appreciated the county and wanted to listen.

Many are worried about what kind of debris is being put into the landfill and feel like there should’ve been a designated spot for debris established before the storm hit, just in case.

Stonybrook residents Lynn Lewis and Kathleen Schriver have a lot of words for what’s going on.

“I mean the hurricane was devastating for everyone; a lot of people lost everything, and we are very sympathetic to that. But all of the sudden, you hear that your commissioners voting on reopening this landfill that was so-called never to be opened again back in 2006/2007. And we just feel that we were owed more than that,” Scriver said.

“Not fair. Not right. And we’re not happy,” Lewis said.

“But it was to never reopen,” Lewis said. “So they already went back on their word. So how can you believe them now?”

“We’re going to be known as the community next door to the landfill,” Schriver said.

The director of solid waste, Doug Whitehead said he gets the frustration people are dealing with.

“We’ll be honest, sometimes the answers we have. They don’t like, but we have to answer them anyway,” Whitehead said. “So and it’s just really to make sure that they know that we’re people and what the purpose is, and that they can ask us questions and contact us with whatever their concerns are.”

Whitehead explained, Tuesday night was all about transparency and addressing concerns raised by people like Fred Russo.

“We’re told that this is really hurricane debris, but it’s sorted, that everything is safe. There aren’t things like mattresses being put into the game, yet I have pictures that show that there are mattresses, there are tires, there’s pillows,” Russo said.

“The material is screened when it’s initially picked up on the street; it’s, it’s looked at, again, when it’s out the debris management site, like the big sightsee placing down at Wa-Ke Hatchee and down on Lovers Key. And then it’s also screening enough here…having said that, is that hurricane debris can have a wide variety of material, those tires should be picked out, and they will be picked out,” Whitehead said.

While they finally feel like their voices are being heard, neighbors said there’s a long way to go before their fears are eased.

“They’re very informative, and I understand they’re very passionate about what they need to do. But that’s not helping us. There’s nothing we can do to make a difference except stand here and tell you how we feel,” Schriver said.

Whitehead wants to reiterate that the landfill is only open again for hurricane debris.

Once it is filled to its specified capacity, it will be capped and closed.

The county is inviting any residents with concerns to take a tour.