No Easy Solutions For Wellington’s Equestrian Waste Issue

BY PAUL GABA

Another equestrian season has come and gone, but a heavy issue remains an unsolved byproduct in Wellington: What to do with all that waste?

“It’s an issue that has been around the village for years, and it’s very important for the Equestrian Preserve Committee to focus on,” said longtime resident and businessman Joseph Scarpa, who was commissioned by the committee to look into ways of dealing with the 26,000-loads-per-year issue.

Scarpa addressed the Equestrian Preserve Committee at its Wednesday, July 5 meeting, with the result being that after years of discussion and research, Wellington still has no long-term answer to dealing with tons and tons of horse manure.

“I have looked at virtually every technology and business model proposed, including some technologies that have not been proposed to the village, including what they’re trying to do in Europe and Asia,” Scarpa said. “No one has found a solution to handling these mass volumes we are producing in our area.”

However, Wellington is far from alone in this problem, he noted.

“Chesapeake Bay is overrun with this problem,” Scarpa said. “There are places in Texas, Massachusetts, anywhere there’s a large concentration of horses. This is not a problem unique to Wellington. And if there were a way to handle this, somebody would have come up with an efficient way already.”

Wellington’s Strategic Planning Department Project Manager Michael O’Dell noted that part of Wellington’s problem is the uniqueness of its issue, as compared with other areas nationally and around the world.

“Other parts of the U.S. have waste material 365 days a year, such as pig, chicken, horse, etc.,” O’Dell said. “We are hurt by this being really a seasonal issue, plus the volume of waste, plus not having one type of technology that works here.”

Officials estimate there’s a 70 percent difference between seasonal and non-seasonal tonnage, in terms of horse waste/bedding created.

“Basically, it goes from more than they can handle for four to five months, to not enough to keep factory doors open the rest of the year,’” Scarpa said. “Based upon researching this, and talking to some of the biggest haulers in Wellington, about 26 thousand loads a year are being hauled out of the area.”

Much of that is ending up at U.S. Sugar in Clewiston, as well as other destinations village officials do not know about. There is also likely illegal dumping of livestock waste in other communities, Scarpa said.

Scarpa said existing systems can deal with livestock waste on a small scale. These include systems that separate waste from bedding, and burning horse waste at the county incinerator, or similar waste-to-energy facilities. But, Scarpa said, issues abound, no matter what options are reviewed.

“The Solid Waste Authority doesn’t want this stuff,” Scarpa said. “They’ve been reducing their cost per tonnage, but haulers are not bringing it there, because it still costs them more money to drop off at the SWA than to bring it out to U.S. Sugar.”

Part of the problem is the SWA charges haulers by tonnage, and if the waste load is full of moisture, it becomes much heavier (and, thus, more expensive) for haulers.

Another part of the problem, Scarpa said, is that the SWA is further restricted by state ordinances, which dictate only a certain percentage of the material can be accepted — essentially, 10 percent of the gross weight in waste product.

Ultimately, Scarpa said, the topic is a municipal issue that needs to be addressed by the village as a whole.

“This cannot be solved by various business proposals that in my view do not work,” Scarpa said. “Not one of them work. Every one that has been proposed to the village, its success has been dependent on the byproduct of whatever is being sold. That’s the equation, and going to a private company is not going to work, because the several that have proposed ideas are either now out of business or in reorganization.”

He added that the Wellington Village Council’s view is that “the problem has been solved” because waste is being shipped to U.S. Sugar. “The council is not invested in this in any way; they believe it’s an issue between the farms and the haulers,” Scarpa said. “But they’re wrong; it’s still an issue.”

O’Dell said Scarpa’s report to the committee brought a unique perspective to the issue, particularly whether a waste-processing company can make money.

“If you’re going to engage a business that can enter into the marketplace, they have to be able to make money,” O’Dell told the Town-Crier. “The committee will probably do a rewrite of its plan of action, and Scarpa’s report is really important to them.”

O’Dell added that the situation may have become more of a problem since the village first looked into constructing some sort of operation five years ago, because of both the growth of the equine community, and pressure from area farmers against various composting methods.

Further, the Florida Right to Farm Act prevents local governments from limiting the activity of farms, which includes telling a horse stable owner where manure may or may not be disposed of properly.

“This is a billion-dollar industry, and we don’t want to jeopardize either the farming industry or the equestrian industry,” O’Dell said.

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