Amanda McKillop came for battle but left the joint meeting of the Alachua Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the City of Newberry crying tears of joy.
McKillop was one of about a 100 in attendance at the meeting held at the Easton Newberry Complex and one of the two dozen people who spoke to the commissions during public comment portions Monday night—even though the transfer station was not on the agenda.
Residents said they learned on Friday that the county was involved in an option to purchase a 20-acre parcel located at 24430 NW 110th Avenue at the corner of US Highway 27/State Road 45.
County staff and the Alachua County Solid Waste Department was evaluating that parcel to determine if a household hazardous waste station could be located on it. In order to do so, the county entered an option to buy agreement that expires on July 13th.
According to Gus Olmos, the Alachua County hazardous materials program manager, the county was looking for a more central site to locate a household hazardous waste transfer station than the current location on US Highway 441 in High Springs. That exploration led to the county staff finding the parcel between High Springs and Newberry.
When residents in the vicinity of the proposed property learned of the county’s plan, they joined forces and came to the joint meeting to air their concerns since the BOCC was going to be in the neighborhood.
From road safety to the concerns of increased traffic on the two-lane highway to hazardous waste damaging the aquifer, residents spoke up about how such a land use could damage the ecosystem and their quality of life.
Jenny Franklin, owner of a USDA certified organic High Springs Orchard & Bakery, said she feared she would have to close her business and sell her acreage.
“There’s so many other places to choose from,” she said, noting the smell of a transfer station near her farm and how customers would react. “Please reconsider.”
After hearing all of the comments, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe offered a solution.
Marlowe said the city was preparing to purchase about 50 acres surrounding the Newberry wastewater treatment facility in preparation for developing a regional wastewater treatment plant.
On that property, he said there is room to divide off a section for a hazardous waste station that would be central to county residents.
County Commissioner Anna Prizzia said she understood that the county staff was doing it due diligence and told the crowd that she could guarantee that there was no way she would have voted to approve that site for a waste station, to which the crowd cheered and applauded.
“When the public gets engaged, we get a lot smarter,” BOCC Chair Ken Cornell said, adding that this would be the only time the board needed to deal with the issue. “We’ve already taken public comment on this item, so we don’t have to do it again.”
County Commissioner Mary Alford thanked the crowd for doing the due diligence for the BOCC. County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler then moved that the county staff stop any further exploration of the property and let the contract expire, which Alford seconded.
The BOCC voted unanimously—minus Commissioner Charles Chestnut, who was absent—to walk away from the deal and allow the option to purchase the property to expire on July 13.
The room erupted in applause as residents stood up cheering, with some hugging each other.
“The whole night was great,” Marlowe said after the meeting. “I was happy to provide an alternative.”
Marlow then turned to next steps.
“Now our city manager needs to sit down with the county manager,” Marlowe said. “They only need five acres, and our plan is to purchase 50.”