Waste Management does get what it wants most of the time. But every now and then, every once in a rare occasion, the behemoth garbage hauler feels the jolt of a protest pushback.
March 14, 2016 was one of those times, when the company pursued a Class 1 deep injection well in Broward County, and determined residents backed by a feisty County Commission foiled their plans.
Waste Management wound up requesting a permit withdrawal on Dec. 14, nine months later.
The question is, can residents of Jackson County and the Panhandle, whose leaders are clearly opposed to the same kind of well at the Campbellton landfill, take heart in Broward's success?
At this point, Jackson County Manager Ernie Padgett isn't sure, but he's not standing still.
"We've directed our attorney to go after an injunction against the Department of Environmental Protection permit they're trying to get," Padgett said. "We want to muster all the stakeholders, Waste Management and all the municipalities affected by drilling into the aquifer, to see if we can find an alternative to a deep injection well.
"There could be a little daylight there," he said.
Last year's victory for Broward County gives Padgett some hope.
For decades, Waste Management had sent its leachate -- the sometimes hazardous liquid that drains from waste in the Monarch Hill landfill -- by pipes to Broward County to be treated and then disposed of underground in an injection well about a mile away.
But corporate execs wanted to expand their business. They were seeking a permit to build their own well at Monarch Hill, with the possibility of allowing outside agencies to truck in their leachate -- or garbage juice. Which is exactly what Jackson County fears now, even though the hauler has said they won't pursue leachate contracts from other municipalities.
Waste Management ultimately backed off of its own free will. The corporation asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to "pause" its application, to give it "time to evaluate other options including alternative disposal sites," according to a letter written by Bryan Tindell, a Waste Management director.
The business decision in Broward to take garbage juice from all over brought the wrath of environmentalists and ordinary citizens who were concerned a well leak would allow untreated toxins to tamper with the water supply.
Coconut Creek city commissioners said the proposal could mean too many trucks carrying in outside leachate to Monarch Hill, the landfill known as "Mount Trashmore."
And residents asked, if you have a well already built that can still take leachate, why should the state allow Waste Management to tempt fate and incur a big risk by drilling another one just so it can make more money?
In September, Broward County and Waste Management reached a deal to stop the deep-well injection project from moving forward. According to a Sun-Sentinel story, Waste Management spokeswoman Dawn McCormick said its contract with the county was scheduled to end in December anyway, and that gave the two sides an opportunity to discuss "a long-term agreement" that ultimately ended in another solution.
Alas, Waste Management's contract with Jackson County is not up for renewal anytime soon.
But residents and local governments in the Panhandle are increasingly jumping on board the "No Well" train.
Towns and cities in some counties that fall in the same regional water basin, and thus depend on the same freshwater aquifers, including Walton, aren't waiting on their respective county commissions to either act or decide to sit on the sidelines.
The City of Freeport on Four Mile Creek in Walton County, population about 1,500, unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday, according to Kelly Layman, a Walton County resident and former Department of Environmental Protection chief of staff under Gov. Charlie Crist. Layman first sounded the alarm in Walton on the pending permit application, which she says "would be more devastating than the oil spill that never even landed on shore here. It made the whole county a temporary ghost town.
"There's no way to track contamination in daytime or the dead of night underground," Layman said, "and if there are carcinogenic toxins or a plume, there's no cheap clean-up plan when it's 'discovered' in public drinking water resources and has made private homeowner wells useless."
Besides Freeport, the NAACP, Jackson County Commission, the city of Marianna, town of Sneads, and Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, all are on record as adamantly against it. Walton County is yet to vote on its draft resolution.
Layman, who has the ear of state legislators and even U.S. senators, established the Facebook page "Safe Water for Walton" as a rallying point, where Panhandlers can go to comment and keep up on the issue. Traffic on the page is increasing. By the start of August the page had racked up more than 9,400 people reached and 2,661 of them engaged in the content.
Though the well would be located at the Jackson County landfill, Walton is still contiguous geologically. "Everything bad that happens underground to water resources in Jackson threatens Walton, and vice versa," Layman told me.in July.
"I can't think of a worse place to inject leachate. Walton County has 16 spring-fed coastal dune lakes that don't exist anywhere else in the world. It has three public parks featuring magnitude springs, and there are five state parks within Walton run by DEP with a sixth state park right on the border with Bay County.
"Every water body connected to the Floridan Aquifer is spring fed, and they're all vulnerable to the potential failure of an injection well," she said.
It's hard to find anybody in the region who actually favors risking their drinking water and the area's precious natural resources so Waste Management can inject garbage juice some 4,000 feet down.
Class I wells, incidentally, are used to inject hazardous and non-hazardous wastes into deep, confined rock formations. They are typically drilled thousands of feet below the lowermost underground source of drinking water (USDW). The geologies of the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes areas are best suited for these types of wells. Most Class I wells are found in there.
Approximately 30 percent of the 800 Class I wells in the United States are municipal wastewater disposal wells. All of them are located exclusively in Florida, according to the EPA.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith