The Polk County Planning Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday to recommend changes to the county’s growth plan and development regulations to more tightly review soil manufacturing plants.
The cases will now go to the County Commission, which is scheduled to send the changes to state officials for review. Following the review commissioners are scheduled to adopt the changes later this year.
The changes do not affect BS Ranch & Farm, a suburban Lakeland plant that already has a permit, though its compliance with its permit is still a matter of dispute.
The company’s revised operating plan is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission in October for a recommendation to the County Commission.
Despite a claim by a BS rep at Wednesday’s hearing, this is far from voluntary.
There is a pending appeal of a code enforcement case involving the plant. County officials maintain the special magistrate erred in not upholding the county’s claim there were development code violations.
That appeal is scheduled to be heard later this month.
Meanwhile, county planners are still working with BS to come up with a management plan that will address odor problems that brought the issue to the attention of county officials.
Before then, county officials were willing to grease the skids to allow the company to receive after-the-fact permits though the company never did complete the technical review required for formal approval.
In addition, an internal memo has stated that unless BS Ranch works out these issues, county planners will recommend denial of their revised operational plan.
What would happen if that occurs is unknown at this point.
There are two outstanding issues involving the overall question of regulating such operations, which attempt to turn solid waste produced by sewer plants, septic tank companies and other similar waste streams into a useful product.
One is that this waste has to go somewhere and as Florida’s population grows—the Lakeland plant is getting truckloads of this stuff from all over the state—the amount of waste will continue to increase.
The other is that there needs to be adequate safeguards to make sure these operations don’t cause environmental pollution and public nuisances and that there is enough financial responsibility in regulations and operating plans to cover the costs of cleaning up any messes left behind if these companies go out of business.
Finally, it’s past time for Polk and other inland counties to act like some economically desperate Third World country that’s eager to unquestionably accept and gently regulate new waste treatment businesses in the name of jobs and economically development. That’s a short-sighted mentality that has guided development policy for too long.
It appears local officials are finally recognizing this, but it case they haven’t, here’s another poke in the rear to remind them they need to do better.