The Florida Department of Environmental Protection bent over backwards to come up with a way to issue an after-the-fact permit to allow a soil-manufacturing operation in an industrial park near residential areas in east Lakeland to continue to operate.
When there were odor problems, DEP’s response was to verify it was coming from the site, but not to force it to shut down or relocate. The position didn’t change, The Ledger reported Saturday, even after it was revealed that the earlier announced cessation of new loads of sludge from Orange County sewer plants until the odor problems had abated had not happened as claimed. The company’s consultant also argued with DEP staff over the definition of odors.
Look up scofflaw in the dictionary and you might see the company’s picture. Look up accomplice and you might see DEP’s regional enforcement staff.
DEP once had a stronger public protection role at this same industrial park. There was a wood mulching operation that was allow debris to drift into a nearby residential area. DEP officials made the company move.
The current DEP under Gov. Rick Scott takes the position that it will rarely crack down on permit violations because that would be unfriendly to business interests, even when the violations are at odds with the public interest.
This comes against the backdrop of some misguided state legislators and others in this state calling for a reduced role for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by ceding environmental oversight to the states.
As the BS case illustrates, Florida’s DEP exercises little real oversight where it counts.
Meanwhile, the Polk County Commission in general and Commissioner George Lindsey in particular deserve commendation for taking some leadership on this issue and trying to undo what they now recognize was a bad zoning decision. They relied on the misrepresentations of the company and the county planning staff on this operation’s true impact.
I’d also like to suggest that in the absence of much state environmental regulatory oversight that Polk consider a way to protect itself from future problems of this nature.
In addition to confining these operations to industrial properties, they might also consider other location criteria in the land development code that would not allow them to be sited anywhere near residential land uses.