FDEP Sues BS Ranch Over Chronic Permit Violations

The chronic odor problems and seeming unwillingness to follow the rules even when regulators tried to cut them a break finally have caught up with BS Ranch, the troubled soil manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland.

On Monday the Florida Department of Environmental Protection filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Bartow to force the company to comply with its permits, asking Circuit Judge Catherine Combee to impose fines of up to $10,000 a day until the violations are resolved.

This follows a warning letter FEDP officials sent to the company on March 18, 2018.

FDEP officials issued after-the-fact environmental resource and industrial wastewater permits in early 2016 to try to bring the company, which had begun operating in 2015 without either required state environmental or county land-use permits, into compliance.

The main issue has been persistent sewage-like odors that have generated complaints from surrounding residents and business owners that have occurred regularly since the plant received its permits.

According to the 236-page lawsuit, FDEP investigators visited the site numerous times to check into odor complaints and to verify they were not caused by other potential sources in the area. The investigators verified that BS Ranch was the source of most of the complaints.

Although FDEP officials stated in the lawsuit that the agency tried to work out an amicable resolution of the problem, it persisted for the past two years.

Finally, FDEP officials concluded that the supposed corrective actions BS Ranch took to deal with the odor problems, corrected very little, the lawsuit said.

In addition, FDEP inspectors found the company had expanded some of its operations beyond what was allowed in the environmental permit issued in 2016.

This week’s suit follows a settlement approved recently by an obviously frustrated County Commission, which had not only approved an after-the-fact permit for the company, but even changed its development regulations—the change has since been repealed—to specifically accommodate the company.

Other Florida counties have been less accommodating in dealing with this type of operation in order to protect the public from odors and other problems these facilities potentially generate.

It is worth repeating that any company that begins operating an intense waste-processing facility without securing permits first should send up red flags, not encourage local officials to put out the welcome mat. Polk officials may have learned the pitfalls of their anything-for-economic-development attitude on this one.

Polk County officials cannot legally shut down the operation because they’ve already given them permission to operate.

Perhaps FDEP’s enforcement action can produce better results.

In earlier times, when FDEP was known for taking a tougher stance on offensive operations, another company that was processing wood waste in the same industrial area was finally forced to relocate in response to persistent citizen complaints about airborne debris.

The best solution may be for BS Ranch’s owners to try to find a more suitable location and decide to play by the rules.

Their current plan certainly isn’t working.




ICYMI: Florida Sierra Responds to DeSantis Water Policy Outline

Sierra Club Florida is pleased that Governor DeSantis is tackling Florida’s water crisis as an immediate, top priority in his administration.  We like his emphasis on reducing nutrient pollution, but have a few questions and concerns about the details of his announcement:

We support:

  • Focus on nutrient pollution.
  • Creation of a science office at DEP.
  • Expediting Everglades restoration projects.
  • Septic conversion program.
  • Commitment to enforce environmental regulations.
  • Additional stormwater treatment for the C-43 reservoir.
  • Commitment to protect Apalachicola River and to stop State of Georgia’s harmful water withdrawals affecting Florida.

    Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director said “In his first week in office, Governor DeSantis has done more to address Florida’s water quality crisis than Governor Rick Scott did in eight years.

    Major concerns:

  • We oppose immediate work on the poorly designed Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. It first needs to be redesigned to include a shallower, wider reservoir with a major land purchase to provide for the necessary treatment of water from the reservoir before it is released south to the Everglades.
  • There is no mention of the need to work with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to address agricultural pollution.
  • There is no mention of the need to combat climate change which is making Florida’s waters warmer and intensifying harmful algae blooms.
  • Like Governor Scott, Governor DeSantis opposes offshore drilling off Florida’s coasts without also opposing new drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico which is the oil industry’s real target, or the expansion of inland oil drilling within the Greater Everglades.
  • Governor DeSantis needs to oppose acid matrix limestone fracturing which is how the oil and gas industries do fracking in Florida. We are disappointed that he singles out “hydraulic fracturing” which isn’t the form of fracking that is done in Florida.  Last year’s bipartisan bills banning fracking recognized this distinction.
  • Nutrient pollution feeds/fuels both blue green algae and Red Tide.  Nutrient reduction strategies and regulation should also be focused on preventing Red Tide that threatens coastal communities.  Just studying Red Tide is not enough.
  • The failure to make a commitment to the reinstatement of strong statewide and regional land use planning.  Governor Rick Scott dismantled the Department of Community Affairs, which had overseen large-scale developments impacting Florida’s natural resources for over three decades; Governor DeSantis can and must compensate for the last eight years.

Tour Lake Kissimmee State Park In Style

Green Horizon Land Trust is sponsoring a swamp buggy tour of Lake Kissimmee State Park on Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m.

The tour will take you to Gobbler Ridge on the shore of Lake Kissimmee, one of the majestic headwaters lakes of the Everglades where you may see Snail Kites, Crested Caracaras and more.

The tour will also include Buster Island, a natural area that lies along the shore of Tiger Creek, one of the lake’s tributaries and a good place to see other interesting wildlife.

Suggestion donation to support the local land trust is $20, plus park admission is you don’t already have an annual state park pass.

To reserve a space on this unique outing, contact the land trust at greenhorizonlandtrust@gmail.com . See you there.

Lake Kissimmee State Park is located at 14248 Camp Mack Road, Lake Wales.



Trump Shutdown Shuts Down Volunteer Work Day

You never know when the effects of the current government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s border wall demands will hit next locally.

Add habitat restoration in a local national wildlife refuge to the list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had planned to host a volunteer work day Saturday to remove some wildlife barriers and other work at the section of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge off Hatchineha Road in Polk County.

That effort has been canceled until further notice because of the shutdown that has furloughed staff.

Meanwhile, another report revealed that Trump is ordering staffing of any federal refuges that are necessary to allow scheduled hunting seasons.

What next?


Planning Panel Rejects Road Privatization Idea

The Polk County Planning Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday to recommend denial of a proposal to change the development code to allow the County Commission to quit accepting roads in new subdivisions for maintenance.

The idea was proposed last year by County Commissioner George Lindsey, a Lakeland developer, as a way to reduce the county’s future financial burden for road maintenance costs.

But planning commissioners questioned the wisdom of telling future homeowners they’re on their own when it comes to maintaining the road and drainage systems on the streets where they live.

One issue that the proposed changes didn’t address is what kind of notice people buying homes would get.

The other issue raised was the uncertainty on how much of a financial burden maintaining local roads was on the county budget. No information was available during Wednesday’s hearing other than generic costs of road maintenance in general.

This appears to be a unique approach among county governments among other urban counties in central Florida, according to a staff analysis. In fact, one adjacent county—Osceola—discourages private road subdivisions.

The case will now go to the County Commission to determine whether it will overrule the Planning Commission or reconsider the policy.

Conservation Amendment Appeal Briefs Keep Coming

The legal fight over the long-delayed implementation of a 2014 constitutional amendment approved by a 75-25 percent margin continues in Tallahassee.

The amendment was intended to restart the stalled Florida Forever program and resume major conservation land purchases on the state’s priority list.

Instead, Florida legislators have diverted money to cover routine agency operational costs and have appropriated much less money for land acquisition than the amendment authorized.

Several environmental groups, including Sierra, sued legislators in 2015 to enforce the amendment’s proper implementation.

Environmentalists won in circuit court last year. Legislators appealed and now the case is before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

During the past month a number of outside groups on both sides of the dispute have filed motions with the court.

On the environmentalists’ side, briefs were filed by Florida Conservation Voters, The Trust for Public Land, The Everglades Foundation and Florida Audubon Society.

On the legislators’ side, briefs have been filed by the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Stormwater Association, the Florida Rural Water Association and the Florida Water Environmental Association Utility Council.

Copies of the briefs are not viewable by the public on the appeal court’s website, but according to a report by Bruce Ritchie at Politico, opponents of the environmental case are arguing the amendment could harm Everglades restoration and beach renourishment funding and delay solution of the algae pollution plaguing south Florida coastal areas. Critics also claimed there probably isn’t enough conservation land left of buy anyhow to spend the $18 billion the amendment authorizes.

The fact is that there are other legitimate funding sources for these programs besides the Amendment 1 funds, which is at the heart of the debate.

The latest estimate to buy just the lands on the state’s top priority list comes to $2.5 billion, which is only a small fraction of the other projects on the state’s acquisition list. In addition, more funds are needed to match local environmental land acquisition purchases. Added together, you get pretty close to the $8 billion figure.

But this argument is really irrelevant.

The simple fact is that Florida voters voted to fund land acquisition, legislators opposed the effort and have been doing what they can to thwart it. Local governments have joined the fight on the legislators’ side because they see the fund as giant piggy bank they can use for public works projects to support more development.

By the time this is over, we’ll know whether the Florida Supreme Court views the Florida Constitution as a suggestion or the law.





Polk Commissioners Still Dealing With Fort Myers Waste Shipment Critics

Despite the lack of evidence that shipments of waste from Fort Myers pose any health threat to anyone living in Polk, county commissioners are still receiving a regular stream of emails and phone calls from a handful of residents who are upset based on media reports.

In an effort to put the issue to rest, commissioners have scheduled a presentation at next Tuesday’s meeting by Mary Yeargan, a geologist from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s regional office in Temple Terrace, and James W. Clark III from Clark Environmental in Mulberry, the company that is processing the waste.

Meanwhile, FDEP officials, perhaps in an effort to reassure the public about the issue, on Dec. 19 conducted a “surprise” inspection of Clark Environmental and of the Cedar Trail Landfill, the site where the processed waste will be disposed . According to the report forwarded to county officials, the inspection found both facilities in compliance.

Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., is open to the public and can also be viewed on Polk Government Television, either online or on cable.

In case you don’t know what this is all about, here’s the short version.

Fort Myers officials buried some waste from a city water plant in a pit in a predominantly African-American community called Dunbar in the early 1960s. The presence of the waste only came to light in recent years. City officials initially misled the public about the situation until local media uncovered the facts.

Although there’s some dispute about whether the material that was buried really constitutes a health threat to the Dunbar community, the presence of the dumpsite and the initial response by city officials caused it to become a political issue. That forced city commissioners to agree to remove the waste and ship it somewhere to the processed.

Although city officials originally planned to ship it to a cement plant in Alabama, the deal fell through and they decided to ship it to the Mulberry processing plant instead.

At the time the waste was first disposed in 1962, no state or federal environmental agencies with any enforcement power existed.