Dark Hammock area residents oppose biosolids processing plant

OKEECHOBEE – Dark Hammock area residents who filled the Okeechobee County Commission meeting room on Feb. 28 were asked to wait until next week for answers to their questions about the biosolids processing plant planned in their area. A town hall meeting on the issue will be scheduled next week.
County Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said county commissioners and staff will provide answers that they can, but some of the questions will be referred to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the biosolids processing company.

“I don’t think it is going to be a good thing for this county,” said Gary Anderson, who handed packets of research and questions to the commissioners.
“You know that we are not happy,” said Joshua Rosen. “We do not want this. We are going to try to prevent it if we can.

“This is not a good thing for Dark Hammock, and this is not a good thing for Okeechobee County.”

“A lot of these questions DEP can answer better than we can,” said Commissioner Bradley Goodbread. “For example, ‘What do we do if there is an odor problem?’ DEP has issued the permit. I would like to know what kind of power DEP would have if there is a problem.”

Tom Cloud, attorney for the City of Fort Meade, warned that city’s experience with this company ended in litigation and the company still owes Fort Meade more than $300,000.

“In 2014, I started getting a bunch of phone calls about odors,” he said.

“I know what a dairy smells like,” he said. The odors from the biosolids facility were much worse than anything associated with agriculture, he said.

“This is not part of farming,” he said. “This is a sludge factory.”

He said the biosolids plant put sludge into the wastewater system and almost ruined their plant.

He said the odor from the plant was so bad that it almost closed a furniture store a half-mile away because the smell affected its furniture.

“We filed a case in state court to get them to stop doing what they were doing,” he said. “We were successful in reaching a settlement that called for them to leave town.

“If you do not exercise some kind of land use control, you are going to have to field a lot of calls about odor,” Mr. Cloud said.

“These things produce odor like you wouldn’t believe. It was a stink in every sense of that word that you can imagine in the City of Fort Meade. We are still slogging through the courts.

“What happens when the trucks start coming from Fort Lauderdale — and you will get more trucks than they say — and it’s going to chew up the road,” he continued.

“The properties next to it will take a hit in value,” Mr. Cloud warned. “The taxes won’t be there to cover the costs.”

The county should also consider the nutrient loading into the watershed, Mr. Cloud said.

He said biosolids are full of nutrients even if they are Class AA.

“All of a sudden you are going to have this facility here with all of that sludge needing someplace to go,” he said.

Steve Dobbs, the engineer for the project, explained that while the FDEP permit mentions a composting plant as a future phase for the site, it is his understanding the processing of the biosolids will take place inside a building. He added that FDEP would require an additional permit for composting.
“All of the processes will take place inside the building, where there will be odor control,” Mr. Dobbs said.

“On behalf of the company, we would be happy to participate in this town hall meeting,” he said.

FDEP has approved a permit for a facility to convert sewage biosolids into Class AA fertilizer at 11403 N.E. 120th St. The owner is listed as Biosolids Distribution Services LLC. The project engineer said the biosolids are the materials left after the wastewater is removed. He estimated that the facility will receive six to 12 truckloads of biosolids a day from the Fort Lauderdale area.

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

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