Critic: BS Ranch Operation Conflicts With Polk Cleanup Project

Another aspect of the ongoing discussion of the environmental impact of BS Ranch & Farm occurred during two different sections of Tuesday’s Polk County Commission meeting.

That involved a proposal to use some unreclaimed mined land owned by Florida Audubon to treat pollution flowing down Saddle Creek to improve the quality of water reaching Lake Hancock and ultimately the Peace River. The main source of pollution is stormwater runoff from a watershed that extends all the way to Lake Gibson upstream from the site.

The project has been recommended to proceed by Polk’s Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee.

But during citizen comments and again during a public hearing a proposed change in development regulations governing soil manufacturing plants, nearby business owner Kirk Sullivan questioned the consistency between the two votes.

Sullivan contended that allowing BS Ranch & Farm, which turns sewer sludge, treated septage and other wastes into soil, to continue to operate near the Saddle Creek floodplain, potentially causing a pollution threat to the stream, seems inconsistent with the idea of trying to establish a pollution control operation just a short distance upstream.

However, there so far have been no documented case of off-site water pollution of the creek or any water body that can be tied to BS Ranch & Farm. The main issues has been excessive odor and that plant operators misled county officials about the nature of the operation when it was being reviewed for an after-the-fact development permit, which the County Commission approved last December

Commissioner George Lindsey told Sullivan that although he’s unhappy with the situation, legal due process limits what the commission can do.

The changes in the development code would make BS Ranch & Farm a legal non-conforming use, which could perhaps affect the site’s marketability.

Meanwhile, there are still ongoing disputes between BS Ranch and Polk County over code enforcement citations and an administrative decision by county planners to hold up final administrative development approval for the operation. They are expected to resolved later this year.

This episode has reportedly changed the way Polk reviews developments and may lead to more emphasis on the public interest and less on greasing the skids for applicants, which has been the practice at times in the past.

Posted in Group Conservation Issues.