The ongoing saga involving Polk County’s attempts to overturn some of its past wrongheaded zoning decisions on a soil-composting plant on the outskirts of Lakeland took an important step forward Wednesday.
The Polk County Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a proposed set of rules—some of them agreed to in a September settlement designed to resolve pending litigation, others proposed since the settlement by county planners—that will deal with persistent odor complaints and make sure the operation meets state rules on wetlands protection and stormwater management.
The soil-composing facility accepts a variety of material including septic tank waste, vegetative waste and other materials. It opened quietly in 2015 without obtaining either county zoning review or state environmental permits and part of the saga has involved the attempts by state and local officials to draft after-the-fact permits instead of simply shutting the place down.
It lies on a 300-acre site in an industrial area off East Maine Avenue adjacent to a 428-acre tract along Saddle Creek owned by Florida Audubon Society and within two miles of residential developments and a public school.
The case goes to the County Commission Dec. 4 for final action.
BS Ranch representatives are pushing back on some of the new conditions, particularly one that involves notification of odor problems within a two-mile radius of the site rather than the one-mile radius in the settlement agreement. That wider area would include Oscar Pope Elementary School, where staff members have reported odor problems suspected to being caused by the plant, according to a non-voting Polk County School Board representative on the Planning Commission.
One of the key proposals from Polk planners involves ensuring there is proper enforcement of any violations of the new facility operations plan and establishing a clear process for anyone in the area to report an odor complaint and a process to determine whether the source of the odor is BS Ranch or another operation in the area.
The complaint process, which is still in the testing phase, will include an online complaint form area residents and property owners can fill out to document any odor problems they notice.