Shuttered Rolling Hills landfill still plagues Wedgewood community

The highly controversial Rolling Hills landfill has been closed since April under an order issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

But the landfill, which has been hit with 17 DEP violations over the past several years, is still causing big problems for residents in the beleaguered and largely minority-based Wedgewood community.

“Even though the landfill is not operating right now, we’re still having to deal with the odors,” said Wedgewood resident Lafanetta Soles-Woods. “And DEP has not given us any indication that there’s going to be any end to the problems with the odors and poor air quality.

“We hear the landfill owners are supposedly trying to cover up what they have out there, but, so far, it’s not working.”

Environmental activist Gloria Horning said the DEP order closing Rolling Hills “has all kinds of holes in it, so we don’t know what the next step is for the landfill.”

However, Horning said there are three air quality monitors currently operating in the Wedgewood neighborhood.

Despite the installation of those devices, the air quality and odors in the vicinity of the landfill are so bad they continue to force people from their homes, Horning said.

“This is a crazy situation that these people in the Wedgewood community are having to live through all of this,” said Horning. “It’s environmental racism.”

Over the past four months, South Palafox Properties, owners of the Rolling Hills landfill, have kept their attorneys busy, filing a flurry of motions and appeals fighting the DEP order. In addition to the DEP, Escambia County also has an order against South Palafox Properties.

But that hasn’t stopped the company from firing its latest salvo on Sept. 15, a Motion for Protective Order.

“The motion they filed basically is asking the court to prohibit us from making a claim against their surety bond,” said Brandy Smith, DEP’s external affairs manager for its Northwest District office in Pensacola.

Surety bonds, or insurance, are required before a permit can be issued to a landfill operator. The bonds are to protect the taxpayers against the cost of closing and maintain landfills should the owners default on that obligation.

“We’re not sure what will happen next,” Smith said of the motion filed by South Palafox Properties. “It’s changing every day with different filings. We’re in the process of filing a response to their motion for protective order.”

Rolling Hills currently has financial surety bonds in place in the amount of $651,633.04 for closure and $202,318.83 for long-term care of the facility, Smith said.

This latest motion is the most recent in a series South Palafox Properties has filed over the summer.

Efforts to reach the company’s principals were unsuccessful. The company’s Pensacola phone number has been disconnected.

At Studer Community Institute’s request, DEP provided a chronology of the company’s legal offensives since issuance of the April order closing the landfill.

Here is the sequence of events, and filings by South Palafox Properties:

— DEP issued a Final Order on May 29, 2015, upholding the revocation of the permit for the operations of the Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Recycling Center in Escambia County.

—  The final order requires that South Palafox apply for a closure permit within 30 days and complete closure within 180 days of obtaining that permit.

—  On June 23, South Palafox Properties filed a “Notice of Appeal” of the Final Order with the department and with the First District Court of Appeal.

—  The department was informed that a waste to energy project was proposed for the Rolling Hills facility, which was to result in removal of existing (construction and demolition) waste. To date, the department has not received a formal proposal to review.

—  The department informed South Palafox Properties that in order for a request for the waste to energy project to be evaluated, the department would need an “interim closure” plan and would allow the horizontal and vertical overages to temporarily remain as long as the plan addressed all other compliance issues at the site, including uncovered waste and stormwater.

In addition, South Palafox Properties would be required to submit a plan for moving forward with the implementation of the Remedial Action Plan. The company also has to submit a statement from the Financial Assurance Surety that the proposed waste to energy project would not affect the site’s closure and long-term care financial assurance.

— DEP held a meeting with South Palafox Properties on July 28 to discuss the site’s closure requirements and the possibilities of how South Palafox Properties could incorporate an extensive waste removal project into that process.

During the meeting, South Palafox requested a 21-day extension to submit the interim closure plan, the plan for moving forward with implementation of the Remedial Action Plan and the statement from Financial Assurance Surety affirming that the proposed project would not affect the site’s closure and long-term care financial assurance.

— On Aug. 5, the department approved a 10-day extension for submitting the complete interim closure plan, a plan for implementing the Remedial Action Plan and the surety statement, thus making the new deadline Aug. 20.

— The interim closure plan was received in the Northwest District office on Aug. 20. After review, the department determined the submittal to be insufficient. On Aug. 28, the department notified South Palafox Properties that they have 14 days (until Sept. 11) to address the deficiencies in the interim closure plan.

— On Sept. 1, South Palafox Properties notified the department that Financial Assurance Surety would not provide the required statement affirming that the proposed project would not affect the closure and long-term care bonds.

— On Sept. 8, South Palafox Properties filed a “Motion to Stay Pending Appeal.” The department has opposed this motion.

— On Sept. 11, the department received an amended interim closure plan.

—  Due to South Palafox Properties’ failure to perform final closing in accordance with Rule 61-701.730, Florida Administrative Code, and the Final Order dated May 29, 2015, the department issued a notice to South Palafox Property’s Financial Assurance Surety on Sept. 11. That order directs the Surety to either perform closing in accordance with the original closure plan and permit requirements, or place the closing amount guaranteed for the facility into a standby trust fund.

— On Sept. 14, South Palafox filed a “Motion for Protective Order,” asking for entry of an order prohibiting the department from making a claim against its closure bond.

—  On Sept. 15, South Palafox filed a “Request for Hearing.”

Smith said they have not received notice that a hearing has been scheduled on the latest filing by South Palafox.

“So, we don’t have anything at present that says they can operate the landfill, or that they don’t have to comply with our order closing it,” Smith said.