Faced with a potential legal fight with Citrus County over a large pile of toxic sludge, the city of Fort Myers has said it will truck the material directly to Alabama without a stopover in Crystal River.
The city’s consultant announced the new transportation plan Wednesday and sent a flyer to residents in the Dunbar neighborhood saying the removal of sludge material would begin Thursday morning.
Prior plans, heading back to late August when the city approved the $3.2 million material removal proposal, said it would be trucked to the LafargeHolcim limestone quarry north of Crystal River, where it would be mixed with limestone and then sent by barge to Alabama.
The city’s notice to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection filed Wednesday omit Crystal River from the disposal plan.
Instead, it says the material will be loaded into trucks and transported directly to the LafargeHolcim concrete plant in Theodore, Alabama.
“The dump trucks will travel via major highways from Fort Myers to the LafargeHolcim cement plant in Theodore, Alabama,” the notice from PPM Consultants reads. “At this location, the material will be beneficially reused in the manufacturing process to make cement.”
Citrus County Administrator Randy Oliver was unaware of the latest development. A reporter sent him a copy of the flyer that was provided early Wednesday evening to the Chronicle by WINK-TV in Fort Myers.
The city posted the revised transportation plan on a DEP document webpage.
That the city’s consultant planned to truck 30,000 tons of arsenic-tainted sludge to the Crystal River facility came as a shock to Citrus County officials, who learned of it through a Chronicle story in early September.
Citrus officials contacted top DEP officials, including Secretary Noah Valenstein, who assured them the sludge disposal plan would have Citrus County’s approval before the material was trucked out of Fort Myers.
Citrus commissioners, though, were skeptical of that promise. Not only did they tell Fort Myers to keep the sludge away from the county, they authorized County Attorney Denise Dymond Lyn to file a lawsuit to stop the transport if that became necessary.
In late October, the project manager from Fort Myers, a representative of LafargeHolcim subsidiary GeoCycle, and a high-ranking DEP official all appeared before the county commission, hoping to convince commissioners that the material is safe for transport and processing at the facility north of Crystal River.
They left no further along than when they arrived.
“Our residents don’t want it. I’m going to stick to that,” Commissioner Scott Carnahan said at the time. “Find someplace else for it. You need to figure out something else because we don’t want it here.”
With the exception of Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith, the board was unified in rejecting the material regardless of review. Smith said the county should accept it if DEP approved.
The issue went silent over much of November, with Citrus officials unable to learn anything new. Oliver said shortly before Thanksgiving that a DEP official told him that the city was exploring alternatives to bringing the material to Crystal River. He had heard nothing since then.