Proper landfill planning preserves open space
Sarasota County, located in southwestern Florida, has made a commitment to advancements in solid waste management and in establishing goals of protecting natural areas through land conservation. Nearly 70,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands, conservation easements, parks, and other protected areas are owned and managed by Sarasota County government. A majority of these lands are open to the public and offer a wide range of activities for visitors while also allowing for the protection of native plants, animals, and habitats. This commitment to achieving a balance is most evident at three county-owned landfills, where the philosophy of “turning trash into treasure” has proven successful.
In 1985, Sarasota County purchased a little more than 6,000 acres of land that now is home to the Central County Solid Waste Disposal Complex (CCSWDC, 550 acres) and the Pinelands Reserve, (5,450 acres). The landfill site acquisition was unique because it was one of the first in the county to make a very broad effort at natural resource protection. The land was purchased to provide an adequate buffer for surrounding landowners, as well as providing suitable areas for wetland mitigation and protecting native habitats on a large tract of land by placing it in public ownership. Following acquisition, the focus for activities on the site included basic land management, planning, and the subsequent development of the landfill. Vital land management activities such as implementing prescribed fire in an effort to reduce the wildfire hazard were also a focus. The CCSWDC was opened for business on June 15, 1998.
Sensitive and environmentally important portions of the Pinelands Reserve were placed in permanent conservation to ensure they would be protected. These habitats will remain essentially undisturbed and function primarily as wildlife habitats and corridors. The location of the CCSWDC and ancillary facilities on the site were determined after careful consideration of environmental and engineering constraints. Physical and regulatory constraints, such as floodplain locations, required setbacks for surface-water sources, setbacks from existing easements, and drainage were identified and mapped. Areas of native habitats that form a continuous corridor connecting other public lands were also identified and mapped.
Portions of the property’s boundary are bordered by lands purchased through the voter approved Environmentally Sensitive Land Protection Program (ESLPP). The Myakka River and Myakka River State Park (approximately 37,000 acres) serve as portions of the property’s eastern boundary. A majority of the eastern boundary is also shared with a private cattle ranch, 162 acres of which were purchased as a conservation easement through the ESLPP. Additionally, the 24,565-acre county-owned and -managed T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve is adjacent to the Pinelands Reserve, separated by the Myakka River. The county-owned North Borrow Pit Property (1,000 acres) is located to the north. The southern boundary is bordered by the Sarasota County Knight Trail Park/Gun Range and also the Rocky Ford site, an ESLPP acquisition, which together encompass approximately 1,200 acres. The remaining surrounding lands are predominantly cattle ranches and a few residential properties.
|Photo: Scott Moranda
The Myakka River forms a 1-mile long section of the Pineland Reserve's southeastern boundary.
The Myakka River forms a 1-mile long section of the Pineland Reserve's southeastern boundary. It is a narrow freshwater stream but begins to turn brackish approximately 6 miles downstream. Mesic and hydric hammocks of oaks and cabbage palms border the meandering river. The US Department of the Interior has identified a portion of the river from the southern boundary of the Myakka River State Park downstream to Charlotte Harbor as a “critical habitat” area for the endangered West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris). The Myakka River is included in the Outstanding Florida Waters system, and the Sarasota County section has been designated as a Florida Wild and Scenic River. Where it flows past the Pinelands Reserve, it is classified as Class I water. Management includes protecting the river’s hammock, routing stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces to stormwater treatment ponds on the CCSWDC, and compliance with all regulations applicable to the river’s special designations as critical habitat, an Outstanding Florida Water, a Florida Wild and Scenic River, and a Class I water body.
The property’s proximity to other publicly owned lands provides the opportunity to coordinate with neighboring land managers and agencies to accomplish shared goals and implement ecological management on a landscape level. Similarly, Sarasota County staff coordinates the planning of management activities and public use amenities on nearby county-owned parcels such as the Carlton Reserve, Rocky Ford, and Knight Trail Park. This coordination helps ensure the most efficient use of resources, effective application of management techniques and complimentary design of public use amenities across the various public lands. Management goals on the Pinelands Reserve are also coordinated with conservation partners throughout the Myakka River basin through participation in the Myakka River Management Coordinating Council and through interagency communication.
A large component of the activities associated with the Pinelands Reserve centers around a commitment to the stewardship of all habitats and native species on the Reserve. This stewardship includes protection from unnatural disturbance, restoration where such disturbance has occurred, and recognition of natural cycles, such as fire and flooding.
The emphasis of the Reserve’s management strategies is to secure the site from vandalism, habitat degradation, wildfire risk, and exotic species proliferation while providing recreational opportunities and protecting critical natural and cultural features. Historically, the Pinelands Reserve was logged, turpentined, hunted, and used as rangeland for cattle. Currently the site is composed primarily of mesic and scrubby flatwoods, with areas of hydric and prairie hammock as well as dry prairie and depression marsh. These native habitats are primarily managed through the use of prescribed fire. The implementation of prescribed fire and other vegetation management activities such as roller chopping have greatly enhanced the quality of habitats on the reserve. The dominant habitat on the site is pine flatwoods, which require a burn interval of two to five years. Preparation for prescribed fire includes such activities as disking the perimeter of the zones, notifying adjacent landowners, acquiring the proper state and local permits, and ensuring that the current weather conditions meet the weather parameters specific to each zone.
|Photos: Scott Moranda
The American alligator, found on the Pinelands Reserve, is listed as a Species of Special Concern in Florida.
|Florida’s threatened pine lily is found on the Pineland Reserve.
Another large component of land management on the site is the control of invasive exotic plants and animals. The county has an active feral-hog-trapping program that is conducted by a licensed contractor. During a typical year, approximately 150 hogs are removed from the reserve. Plant invaders that are being treated and removed from the site include many of the local exotics that exist in southwestern Florida. These plants include Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica), melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia), and West Indian marsh grass (Hymenachne amplexicaulis). Depending on the size of the infestation, these invasive exotics are addressed by a combination of management techniques that include herbicide treatment and/or mechanical reduction. Follow-up herbicide treatments are often required due to the strong acclimation these plants have to the southwest Florida environment.
Public use at this time is limited, but the potential exists to provide for such low-impact recreational activities as hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, and nature appreciation. These possibilities are in addition to the current use by the public of the paved roads within the CCSWDC to view wildlife. Eagle nests can be observed when traveling this access road. The local area Audubon Society conducted a yearlong bird survey that culminated in a birding brochure for the site, Birds of the Pinelands Reserve. These brochures are made available at the CCSWDC administration building and also distributed at public events. Local radio control fliers also have a lease agreement to fly model airplanes in a vacant field within the landfill complex.
The landfill facility offers other interesting and unique opportunities to the public. The site has a Citizen’s Convenience Center that accepts household hazardous materials such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, batteries, automotive oil, and electronics. Small amounts of garbage are also accepted at this location so that less rugged vehicles do not need to travel to the landfill hill for dumping. A very popular feature that many citizens take advantage of is the free compost and mulch produced from the yardwaste that is stockpiled for citizens to take for home use.
The Central County Solid Waste Disposal Complex is the only active landfill within Sarasota County and is currently operated by a contractor with oversight and planning provided by county staff. There are currently nine lined landfill cells. Phase I has five lined cells covering approximately 60 acres. This phase is currently open, with closure anticipated within the next year. Phase II has four lined cells covering approximately 56 acres. This phase is currently open with the anticipated capacity lasting until 2022. Vacant grass fields slated to be future landfill cells are currently being allowed to grow so that ground-nesting birds can thrive. Mowing will occur after the nesting season (April) in an effort to control the encroachment of woody vegetation. This is a new management technique that will be evaluated throughout the year.
County staff works diligently to quantify and verify landfill airspace calculations. Spatial imaging is used to formulate and validate these calculations in an effort to utilize the maximum allowable airspace for waste disposal. Airspace equates to money, and Sarasota County is taking great efforts to make sure there is a minimal loss and maximum usage. A landfill-gas collection system was recently installed in an effort to manage the release of gases associated with the breakdown of the waste. There is currently a plan in place to harness this gas and convert it to energy. This project and transformation is slated to begin within the next year. The complex also has a construction and demolition-recycling center that is run by a contractor with oversight provided by county staff.
Much foresight and planning went into the melding of landfill and natural areas at the CCSWDC/ Pinelands Reserve, and similar cooperation occurred after the closure of the Bee Ridge Landfill. When that landfill was closed, a park was opened in 2009. The park was constructed along the perimeter of the landfill, and the radio-control fliers also utilize this landfill hill for flying model airplanes.
Rothenbach Park, formerly the Bee Ridge Landfill, is a passive community park offering many opportunities for recreational and nature-based fun. Its amenities feature some of the most advanced recycling and sustainable building techniques and materials available, including soy-based insulation, high-reflective roof materials, recycled content siding, waterless urinals, high-efficiency compact lighting, composite wood beams, and an onsite stormwater retention and treatment system. There is currently a landfill-gas collection system in operation that burns off excess methane from the decomposition of garbage that is buried at the site. The county is currently researching the feasibility of capturing and converting the gas for electricity to power other onsite facilities.
The site is also home to a solar array that converts sunlight into electricity and then puts it into the area’s electrical grid system. Additionally, the complex has a household hazardous waste collection facility. Many of the chemicals collected through this facility are in very good condition and are able to be reused. The county recognized this as an opportunity to reduce the amount of chemical waste disposal. The ReUzIt Shop was opened in an effort to help with this reduction. The shop offers some new but mostly recycled products such as paint, automotive oils and lubricants, and electronics to the public for free. Annually the ReUzIt Shop saves the county and its citizens approximately $30,000 in disposal fees.
Rothenbach Park offers recreation and nature lovers about 5 miles of paved recreational trails that are perfect for walking, jogging, or cycling. For those wanting to get a bit closer to nature, there is also a series of unpaved trails throughout the park. The park offers two great playground areas complete with the latest in safe playground equipment as well as a pavilion with restrooms, kitchen facilities and grills. Many of the materials used to construct these facilities were derived from recycled items, including milk cartons and shredded tires, further demonstrating the county’s commitment to sustainability.
The Venice Landfill complex was closed and capped in 1985 but is currently used as a transfer station for residential recyclables and also contains a household chemical collection facility. The most unique aspect of this site is the cooperation that exists between the county and a neighboring landowner.
The site is partially bordered by a golf course and associated residential community complex. A mutual agreement has been established between Sarasota County and the community in an effort to provide a more attractive buffer, passive recreational trails, maintenance of amenities, and the removal of invasive exotic plants. Through this joint effort exotic plants have been removed, Florida-friendly plants have been installed, and the understory of tree canopies has been cleared out to provide access and increased safety. The stormwater ponds on the site are being used to assist in irrigating the golf course. This partnership between the entities has created a strong sense of community.
Sarasota County Government continues to look for ways to use properties that it owns in a sustainable manner and to the benefit of the community. Achieving a balance between nature, residents, and function helps ensure that these lands will thrive for many generations.
Author's Bio: Scott Moranda is an environmental scientist with the Sarasota (FL) County Government.
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