Landfill operators sue to stop ‘trash talk’

Evan Mascagni, PPP’s Legislative Assistant, was recently quoted in the Orlando Sentinel discussing a potential SLAPP in Florida and the need for federal anti-SLAPP legislation.

“The operator of a Central Florida landfill has gone to court to get his neighbors to stop talking trash about the dump.

“They’re costing us thousands of dollars,” said Richard Bazinet, co-owner of Lake Environmental Resources, which recently sued two couples living near the company’s Clermont-area construction-debris pit, alleging they have “undertaken a pattern of conduct and behavior” aimed at interfering with landfill operations.

But some neighbors insist the “defamation” lawsuits were filed to shut them up because repeated dust, odor and health complaints have prompted surprise inspections by regulatory agencies and forced the company to develop a costly plan to stifle sewer-like odors.

“They’re siccing the lawyers on us because of what we’re saying,” said Gary Sprauer, 53, whose home on Bruce Hunt Road abuts the landfill, which is permitted to bury cement block, drywall and other discarded construction materials. “It’s all stuff we’ve seen, smelled and experienced firsthand.”

Bazinet said the lawsuits were not filed to intimidate complaining neighbors but intended to rein in false accusations such as unsubstantiated claims that the pit’s contents seep into the ground and contaminate the Floridan Aquifer, the source for most of the state’s drinking water.

“We’ve tried very hard to be a good neighbor,” he said.

Instead, as the feuding continues the company’s actions may discourage citizens from raising legitimate concerns about the landfill’s effect on their health and property values, said Evan Mascagni, a graduate of Rollins College in Winter Park and legislative assistant with the Public Participation Project. The Washington-based public-interest group has lobbied for a federal law to prevent legal actions known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” — or SLAPP suits — that seek to muzzle and harass opponents by burdening them with legal-defense bills.

“This case demonstrates the need for a federal anti-SLAPP law,” Mascagni said. “Florida, like many states, has enacted very narrow anti-SLAPP legislation. … It would not be available for the defendants in this case.”

Read the full article by Stephen Hudak here: