Biosolids treatment facility planned on N.E. 120th in Okeechobee County

OKEECHOBEE – Plans for a facility to convert sewage biosolids into class AA fertilizer have northeast Okeechobee County residents concerned about the impact on their rural neighborhood.

A legal advertisement published Nov. 9, 2018, in the Lake Okeechobee News states a new facility will be built at 11403 N.E. 120th Street. The owner is listed as Biosolids Distribution Services, LLC.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) approved the permit in December.

Steve Dobbs, engineer for the project, said the biosolids are the materials left after the wastewater is removed. He estimated that the facility will receive six to 12 truck loads of biosolids a day. The biosolids will be treated to kill any pathogens and the trucks will be covered, he explained.

The trucks will be unloaded inside a building. After they are unloaded, the trucks will be washed out under a canopy with the wash water collected and processed to remove residual waste. He said the wastewater may be sent to the Okeechobee Utility Authority sewage treatment plant.

Mr. Dobbs said the trucks will come primarily from the Fort Lauderdale area.

He said that a biosolids treatment facility in Glades County, which has drawn complaints from Lakeport residents, uses a different treatment process. “The
Brighton plant is composting,” he explained. “That is not what they are going to be doing here.”

The class AA biosolids will be sold as fertilizer. Florida law bans the landspreading of biosolids in sensitive watersheds such as the Lake Okeechobee watershed, but does not regulate the use of the more processed class AA biosolids.

“FDEP is adamant that no nutrients from this facility be discharged into the storm or ground water,” stated Mr. Dobbs. “This permit was issued Dec. 4, 2018, and was noticed in the legal ads of the Lake Okeechobee News prior to issuance of the permit. We are awaiting a preapplication meeting with FDEP to apply for the stormwater permit.”

Mr. Dobbs said he can’t guarantee there will not ever be any odor from the Northeast 120th Street facility, but maintained that odor has not been a significant problem at the company’s other facilities.
He said FDEP has approved the operational permit, but the company still has to apply for the stormwater permit. There is an existing permit with the South Florida Water Management District for the sand mine.

The Nov. 6, 2018 document from FDEP states: “The applicant, Biosolids Distribution Services, LLC, applied on Aug. 14, 2018, to the Department of Environmental Protection for a permit revision to the existing facilities permit. The changes involve relocating the facility to a different property and the addition of a (future) phase-two Compost Facility. The new site has approximately 246 Acres of which only a small portion is to be used for the Biosolids Treatment Facility. The site has a sand mine on a separate western portion of the property and may continue to operate. The sand mine area is not part of this permit. This permit covers the Biosolids Treatment Plant which is located on the southeast corner of the property. The site may include other farming operations such as cattle raising. A Department permit is not required for the farming operation. This permit revision will allow construction and operation of a 34 dry tons/day (per shift with maximum of two shifts) domestic biosolids treatment facility (BTF) at the new site.

“Construction of a BTF never occurred at the formerly permitted site (one-mile south of the intersection of U.S. 441 and North Okeechobee Co. Line approximately one mile off the west side of U.S. 441 inside the boundary of Durando Ranch). The process at the new location will consist of the Schwing-Bioset Process that will produce Class AA Biosolids. Odor control will be provided with wet scrubbers and organic biofilters. Little or no industrial wastewater will be generated at the facility. Any industrial wastewater generated, will be recycled as biofilters hydrate, and/or used for trailer beds wash water.

“Stormwater runoff will be treated to meet State Water quality criteria. Stormwater coming into contact with biosolids will be hydraulically separated from the site’s stormwater management system. Stormwater runoff coming into contact with biosolids will not be discharge to jurisdictional surface water or ground water.

“There will be no discharge to jurisdictional surface waters. A second phase of construction may occur to include a Compost Facility within the 246-acres site, however, a permit revision will be required prior to any construction. The details of the compost facility will be provided later during permit processing. The facility will be located at latitude 27o21’24.14”N, longitude 80o42’35.98” W at 11403 North East 120th Street, Okeechobee, FL 34972 in Okeechobee County.”

In addition to Biosolids Distribution Services and FDEP officials, the Dec. 6 FDEP document was copied to County Administrator Robbie Chartier, Bill Royce, Steve Dobbs, and OUA Director John Hayford.

County Administrator Robbie Chartier said that because the facility is among the permitted uses of the current zoning of the property, the matter did not come before the Okeechobee County commissioners. No zoning changes or special permits were required by county ordinance.

Mrs. Chartier stated she did not share the email from FDEP with the county commissioners, “as DEP is the regulating agency and not the county. The BOCC years ago opted out of regulating biosolids and left it to DEP to regulate.”

A petition posted on change.org titled “Block the construction of a HUMAN WASTE treatment plant in our neighborhood” had more than 500 signatures by Friday morning.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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