Opponents — both residents and elected leaders alike — vowed to go to the wall to prevent a set of commercial incinerators from setting up operation in Lutz.
But in the end, they didn’t have to: The applicant retreated.
Louis Geraci LLLP has dropped the request for state permits to operate two Air Curtain Incinerators (ACIs), at 1225 Crystal Road.
That action came after the opposition’s full-scale attack.
But the story is more complicated than that.
Essentially, the applicant had been pressing on through the process to obtain a permit for the two ACIs, in what amounts to an administrative action at the local level.
The county’s Environmental Protection Commission (EPC)’s staff was handling the air permit application — under a contract with the state to perform such reviews.
Due to the nature of the request — and its “potential to generate smoke and dust from the burning,” the EPC declared the application one of “heightened public concern” and notified nearby property owners and registered neighborhood organizations of the request. The EPC staff also scheduled a virtual community meeting for Aug. 23.
When word of the request got out, opposition erupted.
More than 600 people registered to attend the virtual meeting and hundreds bombarded the Hillsborough County Commission, which also sits at the EPC board, urging them to kill the project.
The EPC board took up the issue at its Aug. 18 meeting, but before it began its discussion, it listened to 45 minutes of public testimony during its normal public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.
So many people signed up, the board limited each speaker to 2 minutes each, instead of the normal 3-minute limit.
Speakers cited potential health hazards for children playing outside, which is a normal course of affairs in Lutz.
They said residents of senior living facilities should be able to go outdoors to enjoy some fresh air.
They raised objections about potential negative impacts for people who have asthma or other respiratory ailments.
They said the operation would reduce their quality of life, damage their property values and pose a threat to the area’s wetlands and wildlife.
“I don’t understand why an application like this wasn’t immediately rejected,” said Bryan Flynn, a Lutz resident. “This application is considering allowing an amount of toxic materials to fall back down to earth in this well protection zone, and have the ash wash directly into wetlands and waters connected directly to the aquifer that we drink from.”
Lutz resident Jen Messer wanted to know: “Is it safe to have all of these extra dump trucks hauling waste through our community, where kids stand waiting on the street for buses every morning?”
Dr. James Costello, a professor at Moffit Cancer Center and a professor at the University of South Florida, who lives in Lutz, raised concerns about the emission of cancer-causing toxins.
State Sen. Janet Cruz, whose district includes Lutz, said neighbors were in the dark about the project until a few days before.
“They’ve (the applicants) been quietly clearing the land and preparing for this, and the residents had no idea. They’re flabbergasted. Once more residents see what’s happening, I think you’ll see an army of folks here,” she predicted.
After the morning’s public comment session ended, Commissioner Ken Hagan weighed in — excoriating the proposed incinerators.
“The notion of building and operating commercial incinerators on a permanent basis in a residential area is outrageous.
“By now, we’ve all received an avalanche of contacts. I think, over 400 emails; 1,500 individuals signed a petition from the greater Lutz community expressing opposition, frustration, disbelief and concerns about the possibility of having two massive fire pits operating in such a diverse and populated area.
“They are turning to us to protect them and their families.
“Candidly, I’ve represented this area for a long time. I cannot recall another issue in Lutz that has generated so much opposition. I think you probably have to go back to the ‘80s when the East-West road … was proposed to go through the Lutz community and there was a significant uproar about that,” Hagan said.
He made a motion to direct EPC staff to halt the process, and for the EPC board to voice the board’s objections to the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, to the governor and to the Hillsborough County legislative delegation.
Hagan acknowledged the action could prompt legal action against the board, but he said some things are worth taking that risk.
His board colleagues unanimously agreed to kill the project, but debated the best way to achieve that.
Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to support Hagan’s motion.
Additionally, Commissioner Stacy White suggested asking county staff to prepare a county-initiated rezoning “based upon the health, safety and welfare concerns we’ve heard today” and to research whether that action could trigger a zoning in progress.
He made that motion to do that, which the board supported unanimously.
Now that the incinerators application has been dropped, it appears the publicly initiated rezoning won’t be necessary.
Board members did indicate that they want to discuss the rezoning process and how they can prevent similar situations in the future. The issue is expected to come up at the board’s Aug. 25 land use meeting.
Published August 24, 2022