Wellington Council Enacts Tougher New Rules On Manure Control

Horse owners will have to follow new regulations in managing manure after the Wellington Village Council gave final approval Tuesday to an ordinance that will help the village meet environmental standards.

Council members approved an ordinance governing the village’s “best management practices” for manure storage and management.

The Equestrian Preserve Committee hashed out the issue for months before sending it to the council.

Under the new rules, manure bins must be covered with a lid, tarp or roof, Equestrian Master Plan Project Director Mike O’Dell said.

Additionally, they must be located at least 100 feet from any public body of water, any water that drains into a public water system, or any drinkable water, such as a well.

Councilman Matt Willhite asked how Wellington would enforce this on properties with agricultural exemptions.

O’Dell noted that the state standards for manure management have similar regulations, especially in requiring that bins be covered. “That has been, without question, the one item included in all other publications,” he said. “We are still reviewing what the agricultural exemption means for Wellington.”

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig asked whether this would apply to existing manure bins.

O’Dell said it would not. “If you come in for a new manure bin, or you have to reconstruct your bin, then it would apply,” he said, adding that a bin must be reconstructed rather than repaired if it is damaged more than 30 percent.

Manure haulers will also face stricter enforcement, being required to register with the village and dump waste at state-approved sites. To enforce this, haulers must now keep records of their comings and goings within the village that can be audited by Wellington staff.

Some farm owners who instead spread their manure will be required to compost before spreading to break down the nutrients, or have an approved nutrient management plan. “It’s a $7 fee for a soil test and $35 for a manure test,” O’Dell said. “The report comes back from the University of Florida and says how many horses on that property would be allowable.”

Gerwig asked about the benefits of composting. “I heard that if you compost the waste, the heat will kill the bacteria,” she said. “If not, then you are at a risk of E. coli. Are we addressing that?”

O’Dell said the risk of pathogens increases when more horses are on less land. “If you had a 20-stall barn on 2.5 acres, then you’d have a tremendous amount of waste,” he said. “If you spread it, pathogens could be carried into the stormwater. But if you had one or two horses on that land, it would be much more manageable. You could spread the waste, and it would decay before it reaches the water.”

During public forum, speakers were largely in support of the measures.

“We have the problem of allowing too many horses on too little land,” said Peter Granata. “In fact, we created our own problem.”

But Granata said he was concerned about existing farms needing to go through the permit process. “I don’t think there needs to be any arbitrary cancellation of existing permits,” he said.

Village Manager Paul Schofield said that Wellington could allow existing permits to stand with a valid soil test. “If it’s fine, then there would be no issue,” he said.

Vice Mayor Howard Coates said he didn’t want to see farm owners suffer if they were in compliance.

“I think if there is a problem, it needs to be dealt with,” he said. “But if not, I don’t think we should put them through the permitting process. I’d like to see us put some protection for farm owners in there that if the soil test comes back fine, the existing permit is fine as well.”

Coates asked about the timeframe for soil testing, and Schofield noted that they are required annually.

Gerwig made a motion to approve the ordinance with the changes, which passed unanimously.

In other business, council members are set to interview the top five attorneys in the running to be their new legal counsel next week, with a final selection to come at the Tuesday, April 9 meeting.

Council members picked their top choices, and the top five ranked attorneys will go before the council. From there, council members will narrow it down to just one attorney, and then negotiate a contract.

According to a staff report, attorney Donald Dufresne was given votes by all five council members; next was John C. Rayson with four votes. The remaining attorneys each earned three votes: Gary Brandenburg, former Councilwoman Laurie Cohen and Matthew Kamula.

Willhite asked whether the choice of attorney would need to come before the council at a public meeting. Schofield said it would not.

“I suspect what you will do is make your selection [next week] and then select someone to work out the terms of employment,” Schofield said. “You would make the job offer at the next council meeting.”

Gerwig suggested council members designate one member to aid in negotiating the contract, but Coates suggested that the nomination be done after the council chooses its attorney. “I think it should depend on who has a personal relationship with whomever we pick,” he said. “I don’t want someone negotiating who is close with the candidate.”

Each council member disclosed possible associations with the candidates. Gerwig noted that she has had little contact with any of the candidates and expressed interest in being the liaison. Council members directed Schofield to include her in the contract negotiations.