The Wellington Village Council decided last week to get more input from the Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee regarding changes to how local farms manage horse manure and other livestock waste.
The changes were meant to help Wellington meet federal Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards by strengthening the village’s existing Best Management Practices (BMPs) ordinance. But equestrians voiced concerns that the changes were too restrictive.
The changes would govern how farm owners manage manure, require watertight storage areas, prohibit spreading untreated manure and tighten requirements for waste haulers as well as disposal sites.
At the June 26 meeting, Equestrian Master Plan Project Director Mike O’Dell explained that waste would need to be stored 50 feet from stormwater retention areas and 100 feet from public bodies of water to prevent problems with the drainage system.
“This has a provision for the growth management director to be able to cite those facilities that are recommended for relocation,” he said. “We can work with those applicants to meet our stormwater and water quality standards.”
Vice Mayor Howard Coates said he was concerned about the setbacks, as several property owners told him they would have to move their existing facilities to comply.
“They would have to move them, even if they covered them up as the ordinance requires,” he said. “So that raises an issue for me. If a property [owner] covers their manure storage facility, that alone is not going to be sufficient if we say they also have to be 100 feet away from any body of water.”
But Village Manager Paul Schofield said that existing, legally permitted facilities could be grandfathered in.
“Anything that exists today that is legally permitted and is less than that setback, will not have to move until such time that they would have to reconstruct it,” he said. “We’re not telling people they have to go and move them.”
Schofield noted that some subdivisions have lots so small they cannot meet the requirements. “Nobody will have to move a properly permitted manure bin,” he said. “The point is to work within the constraints of our water quality standards.”
O’Dell also pointed out that setbacks already were in place for bins along the roads. “So this would affect those homes along our canal system,” he said.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she thought the distance was too large, but O’Dell noted that 100 feet is standard throughout the industry.
“Every bit of water comes into our canal system and our ponds,” O’Dell explained. “When you forget to cover [a manure bin] and we’ve had 12 inches of rain… the water will end up in our system.”
New changes would also require livestock waste to be composted before it is spread. “That provision has existed in the past,” O’Dell said. “But we never actually said what the process was, so now we have outlined it.”
Another provision would require waste haulers to identify where the manure is coming from as well as the facility it’s taken to.
“It will be an approved disposal site, and we’re looking for those logs to be provided to us on a quarterly basis,” O’Dell said.
Additionally, the disposal sites will have to be pre-approved and compliant with environmental standards, he added.
During public comment, several residents, including prominent equestrians, spoke against the measure.
Equestrian Cynthia Gardner noted that the Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee was created in 2000 with the purpose of drafting rules for manure. She chaired the committee at the time.
“Wellington was under threat of a fine because of Everglades pollution,” she recalled. “Staff wrote a resolution that was so restrictive and so unenforceable that we wouldn’t have had a horse here today had it been passed.”
Gardner noted that the rules were drafted at that time by gathering members of the equestrian community, golf course owners, fertilizer manufacturers, sod farmers and more.
“We wrote an ordinance that the South Florida Water Management District has used in every other agency they have in the state,” she said. “And a lot of this water-quality maintenance that was passed in 2011 is taken from our ordinance.”
Gardner called the new ordinance “burdensome” and said that the equestrian community was unaware of the ramifications of the new rules. “The plan is impractical,” she said. “To have manure haulers get quarterly reports, do ticketing and have all kinds of documentation on what they’ve done will add huge costs.”
Michael Whitlow, vice chair of the Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee, said that although the committee had recommended approval of the ordinance, it hadn’t been fully explained.
“I think it was done very rapidly, and we didn’t have time to discuss this,” Whitlow said.
He requested that the item be sent back to the committee for discussion. “That way we have an opportunity to fully discuss the ordinance and come up with information for the council,” Whitlow said. “I think by sending it back to the committee, we will be able to generate more support from the equestrian community. I believe that the equestrian community wants to be part of the solution, not the problem.”
Mayor Bob Margolis said that he would like to have a workshop with members of the committee to discuss the issues.
Council members voted unanimously to table the item and send it back to the committee for discussion.