Since 1987, Watson C&D, a company that operates a construction landfill in Archer, hasn’t passed Alachua County inspections. In August, the latest violation included oil leaks on the ground from a fuel storage container, which can contaminate the groundwater, according to an inspection report.
The inspections are completed every 24 to 30 months to monitor proper handling of hazardous materials and waste.
In the months before the August violation, Watson applied for its five-year special use permit renewal, which allows it to operate in a specific zone. The special use permit wasn’t issued until the chromium in the water sample from the monitoring well had decreased
At a county commission meeting in February, the county approved Watson’s five-year special use permit. County staff recommended adding an extra condition to the existing 20 in the special use permit. The new condition requires Watson to notify the county of leaks at the property within a timely manner to reduce potential water quality concerns.
Commissioners requested quarterly instead of semi-annual water quality reports. The commission can also suspend or revoke a permit if there’s an issue at the facility.
“I’ve worked for a lot of different counties,” said Summer Waters, senior planner of the county environmental protection department. “I feel like this is one of the areas where the county is trying so hard to sustainably manage our waste.”
Construction and demolition debris landfills are clean debris landfills, which means they filter out items that won’t contaminate or leach into the groundwater, he said.
Waters said that Watson resolved its violations from the inspection in August based on the department’s criteria. However, that criteria does not require Watson to resolve the water contamination issues.
Chris Gilbert, environmental department hazardous materials manager, said if there’s groundwater contamination, a monitoring well is installed. The site is monitored until it’s fixed under Florida statutes, and the site closes once there’s no sign of contamination, Gilbert said.
“People, property and the environment are the mandates of protection,” he said.
Watson, located west of Gainesville, collects 60% of construction and demolition waste while Florence, another landfill located to the east, receives 10% of debris.
During the issues related to its special use permit violations, Watson continued its operations with a new development plan application in May, the second step in the process to vertically expand its landfill.
Watson is in the development review stage of its expansion process, which means it must resolve issues listed in multiple insufficiency application reports provided by the county’s environmental department. These are separate from the special use permit violations. In its second report, the department requested water quality reports from nearby groundwater resources to understand the groundwater in the area. Watson’s response: “Watson C&D is not directly responsible for any additional testing or detailed analysis for those properties.”
“We’re not trying to shut them down, we want them to operate in a sustainable manner that is in compliance with their policies,” Waters said. “We’re not asking for anything unreasonable or asking them to do anything that Florence doesn’t do.”
In the same report, Watson also rejected the department’s recommendation of an impenetrable sorting pad to prevent contaminants from leaking into the ground. It stated in an email to the environmental department, “Recommendations from staff are appreciated, however, the Watson C&D Disposal Facility is not a transfer station – it is a C&D disposal facility, what would be considered a ‘landfill.’”
“We’re trying to work with them collaboratively. It feels like some mistrust,” Waters said.
Watson general manager Jim Bacom said he has fewer than three dozen people on staff to keep Watson running.
“We starve for enough help to do the job we do,” Bacom said. “Since COVID, it’s almost impossible to keep a full staff all the time.”
Construction and demolition debris landfills can only accept nonhazardous waste, which means people have to spot and sort these materials, Bacom said. They don’t have a liner to prevent contaminants from leaking hazardous waste into the ground, he said.
“It is never ending,” he said. “You hang on and try to do everything you can do in a day. You got to keep everybody happy and keep them busy or there’s going to be trouble.”
His team has six crew members who sort the waste and six to eight truck drivers, he said. According to Bacom, those who sort must have state certifications, which require a three-day training and continued education every few years.
Bacom said he receives between 40 to 90 truckloads every day, which means each truck driver completes around 50 to 60 routes.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen construction in Gainesville be as rampant as it is right now,” he said. “We are building in every direction we can. We are growing faster than we can keep up.”
As Watson tries to keep up with the development, the plans for expansion are ongoing. The landfill has been restored to ground level, and Watson plans for a 48-foot vertical expansion of its 34-and-a-half acres, Bacom said.
The development plan must be approved before Watson can begin dumping waste on the ground, Waters said.
Monitoring wells surround the landfill, and Watson compares the incoming and outgoing water on the property to ensure no contaminants are added to the water, which would impact the aquifer, Bacom said.
“If we can convince everybody on earth the six inches of soil on the top of the ground and the aquifer underneath it is what makes it possible for us all to live, we can survive,” he said.
The third insufficiency report, submitted Oct. 2, was an attempt for Watson to get its required documents approved by the environmental department in time for the development review committee, which will meet Nov. 2, Waters said.