Okeechobee County biosolids facility may require rezoning

OKEECHOBEE — Plans for a biosolids processing facility in the Dark Hammock area in northeastern Okeechobee County may be stalled. On March 1, the company’s owner was notified by Okeechobee County that the project would require rezoning of the property.

“It was determined, that the proposed location zoned Agriculture does not allow for a residual management facility,” County Administrator Robbie Chartier explained Wednesday.

“A residual management facility is to be located in PS (public service) zoning. The proposed facility location is Agriculture. This information was passed along to the biosolids plant engineer, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and commissioners.”

The proposed processing facility would take Class B biosolids, human waste which has been treated to remove pathogens, and processes the material into Class AA biosolids, which can be sold as fertilizer.

Steve Dobbs, engineer for the project, said when the biosolids processing company officials met with the county previously, they were told the facility was a permitted use in Agriculture zoning.

“They’re evaluating the situation to determine the next step,” he said. “It’s getting complicated.”

The president of the company is consulting legal counsel, Mr. Dobbs explained.

He said residents who voiced concerns about trucks carrying biosolids on Okeechobee County roads should know the same type of trucks are already carrying the same type of materials from urban areas to the Okeechobee landfill.

“Currently the same type of material is going to the landfill,” Mr. Dobbs continued. “It’s getting dumped in the landfill now with no further processing. These trucks are going up and down the streets now.”

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. Mr. Dobbs said the biosolids are the materials left after the wastewater is removed. He estimated that the facility would receive six to 12 truckloads of biosolids a day from the Fort Lauderdale area.

At the Feb. 28 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners, residents who live in the Dark Hammock area voiced their opposition to the project. Tom Cloud, attorney for the City of Fort Meade, warned that city’s experience with this company ended in litigation. The odors from the biosolids facility were much worse than anything associated with agriculture, he said.

According to Mr. Dobbs, the facility planned in Okeechobee County is not the same type as the one that resulted in issues in Fort Meade. He said the processing at the Okeechobee plant would take place inside an enclosed building.

At the Feb. 28 commission meeting, Dark Hammock area residents who filled the Okeechobee County Commission meeting room were asked to wait for answers to their questions about the biosolids processing plant planned in their area until a town hall meeting could be scheduled. County Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said the county would ask Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and representatives of the biosolids processing company to participate in the meeting.

On March 7, Mr. Dobbs said company officials are willing to participate in an informational meeting with county staff, FDEP and area property owners. Such a meeting has not yet been scheduled.

According to FDEP, biosolids are the solid, semisolid or liquid material produced during the treatment of domestic wastewater. According to FDEP, a wastewater treatment facility can choose from several biosolids use or disposal options including:

• Landfill;
• Transfer to another facility;
• Land application;
• Distribution and marketing as fertilizer;
• Incineration; and,
• Bioenergy.

Floridians and visitors produce bout 320,000 dry tons of biosolids each year, according to FDEP. Currently about one-third are disposed of through land application of Class B biosolids; one third processed to the level of Class AA biosolids and sold or given away for use as fertilizer; and one third go to landfills.

The state restricts landspreading of Class B biosolids to permitted sites. Landspreading of Class B biosolids is prohibited in sensitive watersheds such as the Lake Okeechobee watershed. Per DEP there are 95 permitted land application sites in Florida. Urban areas produce most of the biosolid materials; land application sites are typically located in rural areas.

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

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