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Nancy Smith

Plea to DEP: Don't Let Waste Management Turn the Panhandle into Flint

July 22, 2017 - 11:30am
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park

Waste Management is used to getting its own way.

And that's what scares residents of the geologically fragile Panhandle region where the nation's largest garbage handler wants to sink a well nearly a mile into the ground, then inject it with toxic-liquid landfill waste, called leachate.

In fact, it scares no one more than Kelly Layman, who was Gov. Charlie Crist's DEP chief of staff. Layman lives in Walton County now, is knowledgeable about -- and fiercely protective of -- the area's natural resources, its geology and geography.

I Beg to Differ

When Waste Management followed up its application for the well with a public notice that barely was public at all -- after only one person, a reporter, showed for the first meeting because residents hadn't seen the notice, Layman was in.

"I got involved not from an anti-applicant stance, but for me it's a geology and geography appropriateness conversation that has to be had."

Though the well would be located at the Jackson County landfill in Cambellton, Walton is still contiguous geologically. "Everything bad that happens underground to water resources in Jackson threatens Walton, and vice versa," she told me.

"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.

Kelly Layman Credit: DeFuniak Springs Herald
Kelly Layman Credit: DeFuniak Springs Herald

"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. 

Layman addressed the last Walton County Commission meeting and helped the commission draft a resolution against the well.

Since that early, half-hidden notice in a newspaper classified section, residents have turned out in force to oppose the well. Literally no one I could find anywhere near the Jackson County landfill is in favor of drilling a deep well there.

In fact, 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. (See the resolutions in the attachment below.)

"Everybody in Jackson County that wasn't making money off of it was against it," Gainer told the Tampa Bay Times, after a clamorous commission meeting in June.

Leachate, which locals call "garbage juice," is bad stuff. The dark brown liquid contains organic and inorganic chemicals, heavy metals and pathogens; it can pollute the groundwater and therefore represents a significant health risk. Its composition varies a lot, both from time to time and from site to site.

Here's the thing: We're just finding out how bad it can be when we get a deep well wrong.

ProPublica researchers have done a lot of work on this. They say records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury waste deep beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation's drinking water.

The Department of Environmental Protection has issued no permit yet.

Lauren Engel, DEP spokeswoman, said Friday, "To receive an exploratory well permit, the applicant is required to provide comprehensive geologic information. This includes evaluating a one-mile radius around the well location for other wells (both active and abandoned), mines and sinkholes.

"Applicants must provide information on all identified wells to the Department, including well depth, location and use," she said. "DEP geologists and engineers review this information as part of the permit review process."

None of this comforts Kelly Layman, who says, "Look, you can send wastewater down a well. But it won't necessarily stay there. Water is ferocious. It migrates where it wants to go, and it will find its way up.

"What happens when it migrates to abandoned wells and tanks and other easy places to contaminate the drinking water supply?  The chilling fact is, there's no way to know until it shows up in your kids' water ..." 

It is a little frightening, when you think about it, that we're a state that almost bends over backward to trust deep well injection. We have a history of green-lighting permits for the out-of-sight-out-of-mind treatment of all kinds of evils. We have 262 injection wells now -- way more than any other state but California, and four permitted for leachate.

Said Engel, "All four leachate wells are working as permitted."

Well, no disrespect intended, but the moment Engel assured me of the "success" of previous leachate wells was the very moment I figured this exploratory well permit, as proposed by big-business Waste Management, is a slam dunk. 

In the first place, the big waste company and DEP are no strangers. The state knows, I'm sure, that the $32.2 billion provider of waste management environmental services stands at No. 481 on Forbes Magazine's Global 2000 list of the world's largest public companies.

Its legal department alone eclipses most Florida businesses. 

In the second place, I can't imagine DEP permitting an exploratory well which would cost $5 million to build, then denying Waste Management the final permit to use it. Can you? Remind me to ask Lauren Engel next time if DEP has ever done that.

Jackson County Administrator Ernie Padgett, like his county commission, opposed an injection well from the start. "You have to drill through three aquifers. The risk is too great," he said.

"For Waste Management, it's a business decision," he said. "They told us they had to have the well because other sites couldn't take anymore leachate. Come to find out, treatment facilities in places like Sneads had plenty of room for it. They want to inject Jackson's waste and probably anybody else's who can pay."

He said he asked the waste hauler for a list of all out-of-county garbage waste coming to Jackson County. "They refused to give it to me. They told me it was proprietary information," he said.

Padgett, who has been an administrator in four counties during his 30-year career, said, "If I had my way, I'd like to see Waste Management team up with municipalities to put in a state-of-the-art water treatment plant."

"They're big and rich and we're poor and small," Jackson County resident Myra Johnson told Sunshine State News on Friday. "Waste Management is just going to push this through no matter what we want. 

"I feel like, if they go through with this, we could become another Flint (Michigan)," she said.

The trouble is, injection wells in the Sunshine State have experienced spectacular failures. ProPublica points out, in South Florida, 20 of the nation's most stringently regulated disposal wells failed in the early 1990s, releasing partly treated sewage into aquifers that may one day be needed to supply Miami's drinking water. And according to the Tampa Bay Times, some of the 20 million gallons of wastewater Pinellas County had been injecting into a deep well every day during a seven-year period in the 1990s had been leaking back to the surface and spread more than a mile from the well.

I'll leave you with this: There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids and poisonous waste thousands of feet below the surface. ProPublica tells us, "Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking."

Feels to me as if the residents who stand in opposition to the well are walking the high ground (no pun intended).

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith  



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Another big question to me among others. The reporter who blew the lid off this story is the same reporter who went to the first meeting they had. She obviously knew about this "under the radar " meeting because she was there and if im not mistaken was her paper that the notice was advertised in. Why wait until after the meeting to report the story , when it was too late for us to attend. Wouldnt it have served us better if she done the story before the meeting to give us time to attend?

That actually doesn't surprise most of us, it happens across the state all the time. Local weekly publications operate on a shoestring ---some have died--- and their news reporters typically do not have a deep understanding of the state permit processes. So it's not their fault when they see what looks like a standard and normal ad and public notice in paper, and then find out later it is anything but. She or he should be thanked for at least following up on it .... sometimes that doesn't even happen with daily newspapers! Also, Sunshine State News should be thanked for "blowing the lid" off this in the Capitol. This will get bigger.

Thats an excuse for the reporters not doing their job or research. She obviously knew or should have known it was more than just an ad in the paper because she showed up at the meeting herself. But waits until after the meeting is over to run the story? Thats why its hard to believe half of what they report , because they dont want to spend the time on doing any research or reporting facts. Instead they are just in a hurry to get out a story abd hope its worded in a way to cause controversy in order to sell papers. .

Been watching since first story came out a couple of months ago.follow the money , so many inconsistancies in this whole thing. Still trying to figure out who all the players are and what the gains are. I agree with Todd , why are some of those questions not being asked from public officials that are silent about the other ones that have been installed and still being used when they say " they are not safe". Ok ,well what are you doing to stop them and why didnt you speak out when was installed on your watch?

NOTE TO TODD: Sunshine State News doesn't delete readers' comments because "they don't fit" our agenda. We do delete them if readers print personal information about people from other published sources that has been proved to be incorrect. Your comment was deleted for that reason.

Where were Mrs. Laymen or Senator Gainer when we were trying to stop these in Bay County ? Wait one was probably employed by the DEP and the other a sitting commisioner in Bay county. Guess someone didnt grease the wheel on this one.

First off, Gainer would have been one vote then and he is certainly making up for lost time now saving the whole region across eight or nine different counties. Rick Scott was elected Governor in 2010. Article says the D.E.P. person was with Governor Charlie Crist so that's way before 2013.

You had my attention until you quoted research done by Propublica. After that you lost all credibility. Do some research , Propublica is a left wing radical website. Everything they report is lies to fit their agenda.

Seriously? You think ProPublica is propaganda? Sometimes the truth hurts. Investigative reporting uncovers painful truths. "ProPublica's investigations are conducted by its staff of full-time investigative reporters, and the resulting stories are distributed to news partners for publication or broadcast. In some cases, reporters from both ProPublica and its partners work together on a story. ProPublica has partnered with more than 90 different news organizations, and it has won four Pulitzer Prizes."

Yeh ok and keep reading NY Times and ProPublica , and watching CNN and MSNBC for factual news.

Ok, I just did some research. The current board chairman is a successful venture-capital fund guy, the executive chairman or some title like that is the former managing editor for the Wall Street Journal.... for almost 15 years.... and looks like the founder who is still on the board was a successful banker and had a stint with Wachovia. That's not a funding and governing group that's exactly radical left-wing....

If you read any of their articles it should be obvious but here is some help.

I find it interesting that you post an article from a well-known RIGHT LEANING publication to back up your statement.

The rejection of this idiocy is a no brainer... That is exactly why I would be very concerned that it will happen. Please tell anyone that will listen to stop this. I went to a high school in FL (unnamed on purpose), that had problems with dumped wastewater and chemical treatment waste on its grounds in back areas previous owned by another company. They irrigated the practice fields with well water. In the 30 years since I have left there, 40 former students have died from cancer, leukemia, and various other auto-immune diseases, many have come down with other auto-immune diseases. One of my best friends has suffered miserably from Lupus. Many of their kids have come down with leukemia, cancer and other maladies. It is a cluster, way too many to be a coincidence. This is the same type of thing that will happen there. They all thought it was safe to bury that stuff back then too... Vehemently reject this non-sense now, or the same types of things will be happening to your families and their kids many years from now...

Why is it that when I try to open certain articles in your Sunshine State News, I get this message, "You are not authorized to access this page" and a blank page instead of the article? Lee Kocsi

Like why does this one keep getting deleted or sensored?Really , he was only one vote so he should have not opposed it? Just so you know these things are still here and he has not said a word about stopping them. Even though he has said he thinks they are not safe. Quote from the News Herald article "Rogers said the company has been utilizing the same well system at its Plant Crist facility in Escambia County since 2010 " Well guess who was at DEP in 2010 making $137,000 a year? Of course you wont see any of that in the news ;) Follow the $$$$$$$$ Responded already and post was deleted.guess they sensor anything that doesnt fit their agenda

Lee, please email me at my address at the end of this commentary and tell me what page(s) you're trying to call up. I'll try to find out what's going on. Thanks.

Why are my comments deleted? Were not offensive in any way?

Suddenly, (as of today) : "Ditto",...Is this some cobbled, arbitrary form of "suppression of freedom of speech" based upon political affiliation... OR.. merely "SSN's" "panties in a wad"?!?

Ernie Padgett has it right! Waste Management should build their own sewer treatment plant for the leachate.

PEOPLE: Essentially, every one of us in Florida lives on, a barely above sea level, sandbar and filled-in mangrove swamp. Long Island, New York is the perfect micro-version of Florida... Since the late 1940's "waste" products (motor oil, gasoline, Tetrahydrcloride [clothing dry-cleaning fluid] and every other hazardous contaminant has been pumped or leaked, either intentionally or accidentally, into Long Islands' ground affecting it's acquifer in quite negative fashions. ALSO, many government approved producers (among them) mega military airplane builders like "Republic" (Farmingdale, NY) and "Grumman" (Bethpage, Hicksville and Calverton, NY) and "Lee Tungsten" [now "Matiace Petro Chemical Co."] (Glen Cove, NY) were guilty of this practice for decades until they "closed up and shut down their factories", relocated or went out of business. MANY of these locations became "Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)" 'Super-Fund sites' with "CYA" (cover your "government azz") intentions. TO THIS DAY, underground "chemical blooms" are still spreading across Long Island, under residences, businesses, schools, hospitals (essentially the entire population) at an insidious and UNSTOPPABLE rate. {"NEWS MEDIA": "google, nexus, lexus" and use OTHER of your research sources to "dig into" this virtually UNSTOPPABLE DANGER that "politicians and Lobbys" hope & pray will never become a known problem "on their watch"...ALSO research "health problems believed may be associated with these Long Island "traveling, hazardous, aquifer blooms" affecting the aquifer}. There is no "known" (entirely safe) way to dispose of this type of hazardous waste at this point in time, ESPECIALLY in Florida's fragile essentially "water level" ecosystem. This "Waste Management" proposal is nothing more than a "Corporate/Political PROMISE" that NO ONE can assure or guarantee beyond its actual "dig"... Folks: the BEST way is to abandon this "folly" ALTOGETHER!!! Your lifetime health, and that of your progeny may well depend upon STOPPING this already known potential DANGER to Florida and its citizens !

The people in this area have made it clear that we will not allow Waste Management to gamble with our lives and the lives of our children by installing this dangerous injection well so close to our fresh water aquifers! Waste Management has given no indication that they are backing off from their plans! ⚔ If Waste Management continues down this path they had better prepare for a war, the likes of which they have not seen before! In my opinion they amount to nothing less than "Domestic Terrorists," preparing to attack us with chemical and biological weapons by poisoning our only water supply! The people should treat them as such in opposing them, and should take no prisoners! Glenn Nunley. North Florida.

Good job Glenn. Living in west Central Fl.on the water( Homosassa River) and having anotherhome in Central Fl as a lakefront vacation rental (Clermont Chain of Lakes 30 miles west of Orlando)I certainly understand your view point. Keep me informed. I grew up in Graceville and my Mom still lives there at Hillview Assisted Living.

Steve, me and a friend started a Facebook Page to share as much info about this as possible. I can assure you that we have no hidden agendas or political liabilities! I will attack any and everyone that I find to be less than the right thing....And that is to stop this Mega-Polluter from poisoning our water supply! Type in "Save North Florida's Water" in the Facebook search bar to get there.

Ditto, Daniel. It is now time to listen to those who know about Florida and how Wastewater Treatment works. God - have we not had enough of magical ideas posed by financial manipulators who give a "cr.p" about reality.

Nothing has to be injected below surface, period! Wastewater treatment plants are required for some very nasty water, including pig farm wastewater, about the hardest and worst to treat, but it doesn't need to be injected below. These cheap bastards are greedy and just trying to hold on to bigger profits!! Make them build multiple mega-gallon capacity wastewater treatment plants. And DEP rightly oversees these permitted plants. The water can be returned to a nearly 100% pristine state. I've overseen these type plants for 22 years now. Greedy jerks.

If water treatment plants turn water into 100% pristine state then why are the majority of injection wells in the state of florida owned by water treatment plants? Why not just use it as drinking water to return to citizens? DEP also rightly oversees injection wells too so use that as an arguement is kind of asinine.


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nancy smith

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