Controversial coal ash deal took money away from nonprofits in Osceola County, investigation finds

Some locals are planning another round of protests in Osceola County because a landfill near Holopaw continues to receive coal ash from Puerto Rico.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Groups that were cut out of receiving money from the dumping of coal ash into an Osceola County landfill said no one alerted them before the decision was made.

9 Investigates found out Osceola County commissioners took money away from local school kids and nonprofits when they approved the controversial deal to dump Puerto Rico's coal ash.

For weeks, WFTV has covered the blowback over a last-minute vote to accept millions of pounds of waste from the island's coal-fired power plants without any public input.

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Osceola County is nearly two months into the deal to dump coal ash into the landfill.


Commissioners Peggy Choudhry, Cheryl Grieb and Viviana Janer said “yes” to taking Puerto Rico's unwanted coal ash, which was banned from being dumped anywhere on the island in 2017.

Up until that vote, the JED landfill near Holopaw paid a so-called host fee to local nonprofits - 50 cents for every ton of trash dumped inside.

Osceola Public Schools, the Foundation for Osceola Education, the Holopaw Homeowners Association and the Kenansville Community Association all received 12 and a half cents a ton from the fees.

It was so important to the commissioners who passed the last major contract with the landfill in 2012 that the the official copy came with a handwritten note instructing the county manager to make sure those organizations got paid.

John Haystead, president of the Holopaw Homeowners Association, said the county didn't discuss exempting the coal ash from the fee prior to the vote.

"No communication whatsoever. It was all done kind of secretly, I guess, is the only way to say it," he said.

A spokesperson for Osceola County Public Schools said the school board never knew about being cut out of the coal ash money either.

Although 12 and a half cents sounds like nothing, the amount of coal ash Waste Connections was planning on taking from Puerto Rico could have generated up to $40,000 for each of the four groups.

According to the deal done on April 1, when Puerto Rican coal ash gets dumped, the private landfill owner gets to keep that money instead.

A report stated, "Due to the significant volume of imported coal ash anticipated to be accepted arid disposed of at the JED facility, the contractor has further requested a reduction in the host fee."

Commissioner Fred Hawkins has been speaking for the county on the coal ash issue.

When asked why the landfill was cut some slack at the expense of local students, Hawkins said, "That was done for negotiations with the county manager and the company. He had his reasons."

When the three commissioners who voted for the change were asked why they thought taking the money away from the nonprofits was a good idea, none of them responded.