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an after-the-fact permit for the company, but even changed its development regulations—the change has since been repealed—to specifically accommodate the company.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.