The BS Ranch saga, which has lasted nearly half as long as the Afghanistan War (or the Vietnam War for that matter) has taken an interesting turn.
Polk County officials, who historically complained about picky state environmental regulations, are on the offensive against state environmental regulators who they contend fell down on the job.
The county recently filed papers to obtain a state hearing over a consent order between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and BS Ranch & Farm, arguing the order fell short of state environmental regulations that the FDEP is supposed to enforce.
Polk officials are seeking stronger order that also includes a closure plan so that Polk County doesn’t end up having to clean up the mess as has happened in other cases.
BS Ranch is an alleged soil-manufacturing facility located in an industrial park on the outskirts of Lakeland that has been the source of odor complaints throughout much of its existence and probably a lot of water pollution to boot.
It began operations sometime in 2013 or 2014 without obtaining state environmental permits or local land-use permits and even when it received after-the-fact permits, the operators appeared to have felt free to ignore them.
The thrust of Polk’s argument is that FDEP this year issued a four-year permit extension under the guise of a consent order without getting any real assurances that the facility’s operators would do anything different than the stuff it had been doing that has been the basis for code-enforcement cases, lawsuits and citizen complaints.
“In the 10+ years the Facility has been in operation there has never been a single period of time in which the Facility was compliant with FDEP rules,” the 27-page petition states, adding that with this kind of history it is hard to understand why the agency didn’t take stronger action.
Polk officials also allege the odor and water pollution the facility is putting citizens, county inspectors and natural resources at risk, which is a key issue that gives Polk County standing to seek further action.
Additionally, the facility’s stated purpose of turning different kinds of wastes ranging from yard debris to septic tank wastes into marketable soil turned out to be bogus, too, according to the county’s filing. Using BS Ranch’s own figures, only about 0.3 percent of the nearly 1.5 million tons of material that was brought in for processing was actually marketed.
In other words, instead of being a recycling facility, it is just a dump.
The irony is that Polk officials wrote a special regulation just to accommodate soil manufacturing to bring the facility into compliance with local development regulations. Part of the allegations in the filing was that the operation has made a joke of the county’s development regulations.
It is hard to say how much longer this will drag on.
Everyone involved has a right to respond to what Polk filed. Then if a hearing is granted, it has to be scheduled. The hearing will likely involve voluminous testimony or documents and it may take some time for the hearing officer to sift through all of that and render a ruling.
Depending on what the hearing officer rules, more appeals may be filed and it could string this fiasco out as long as the Afghanistan War. Stranger things have happened in other environmental cases.