Palm Beach yard trash dump sites drawing objections

PALM BEACH, Fla. - Ritzy Palm Beach doesn't even let its yard trash mingle with everybody else's.

Tons of palm fronds, bush clippings and other yard waste trimmed from high-end homes gets trucked off the exclusive island to two town-owned landfills located near much less affluent neighborhoods outside of West Palm Beach.

Instead of sending that yard waste to be recycled as mulch or disposed of at the county landfill like other cities, Palm Beach for decades has piled the town's clippings at the dump sites near homes off Okeechobee Boulevard and Skees Road.

Now as Palm Beach seeks permit renewals needed to keep dumping, residents who live near the mounds want the state to require the town to truck the yard waste elsewhere.

Nearby residents blame debris blowing onto their properties, and say it keeps their home air-conditioning filters covered in black dust. Invading termites also are blamed on the decaying mound of waste that comes from keeping Palm Beach well manicured.

"It has just caused a lot of problems," said Larry Diegert, who lives on Breezy Lane near one of the landfills. "You have got the richest people in Palm Beach County just doing whatever they want."

County officials are adding their voices to residents' concerns. On Wednesday, the County Commission meets to consider challenging the town's permit push.

"They could just bring [yard waste] to the Solid Waste Authority like everyone else does," Commissioner Karen Marcus said.

"There is a health issue," added County Commissioner Paulette Burdick.

But town officials say sending their yard waste to the county landfill would cost their uber-wealthy citizens more money.

Plus, they say the town has been dumping yard trash there for more than 60 years. The compost mounds existed before the homes sprung up nearby and they offer an economical and environmentally friendly alternative to disposing of yard waste, according to Town Manager Peter Elwell.

"It has worked just fine for a very long time," Elwell said. "This is sticks and leaves and grass clippings that are naturally decomposing in a pile."

Palm Beach is the only municipality in the county, and likely all of Florida, dumping yard waste in compost piles outside of its own city limits, instead of sending the materials to be mulched or disposed of at a landfill or private disposal facility, according to the Palm Beach County Health Department. The Health Department must sign off on the town's permit request.

"This is one that is kind of unique in Florida," Health Department spokesman Tim O'Connor said. "It's the only one we know of that is strictly for this type of purpose."

Palm Beach produces about 13,000 tons of yard waste a year, according the Solid Waste Authority.

By dumping it at their own site, the town avoids paying county disposal fees. The Authority charges about $25 per ton to accept yard waste, which means the town would end up paying about $325,000 a year if it stopped using its two dumping sites. That doesn't include transportation costs.

Covered dump trucks lead a parade of yard waste that starts at some of the country's priciest addresses and ends at the dump sites behind chain link fences and towering weeds about 8 miles from the coast.

The clippings and other yard waste are added to piles that can reach 15 feet high at the landfills.

Residents' complaints increased after tall Australian pine trees that once shielded the Okeechobee landfill site were removed.

The town in its permit renewals wants to avoid requirements to cover the mounds with dirt, as is required at other landfills. The town also wants the state to ease regulations for the slopes and compaction of the piles of waste.

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