In a zoning meeting last week, the Palm Beach County Commission gave preliminary approval to changes in its animal waste and manure regulations aimed in part to improve control over uncontrolled dumping of animal waste in unincorporated areas such as The Acreage.
The change, going through as part of the year’s first round of Unified Land Development Code amendments, are intended to prevent property owners in the county from allowing their lots to be completely covered with several feet of animal waste hauled in from other areas, which creates health concerns.
At the June 24 meeting, Acreage residents Anne and Gert Kuhl opposed changes to the animal waste rules, instead asking the county to strictly enforce the existing regulations.
Gert Kuhl said he thought people were abusing the existing animal waste regulations, specifically by taking waste from horse shows in Wellington and dumping it illegally in other areas.
“Dumping a whole bunch of manure in one place is not agriculture,” he said. “I think there is nothing broken here in the laws.”
Anne Kuhl said she would prefer that the county and other regulatory agencies enforce existing regulations. She pointed out that proposed setbacks of 25 feet would adversely affect owners of the predominantly 1.25-acre lots in The Acreage.
Speaking in favor of the amendments, Nick Aumen of Las Flores Ranchos near White Fences said he was not concerned about the reasonable use of compost and manure for soil enrichment and gardening, but rather the broad-scale application of animal waste, explaining that one of the owners of a 5-acre lot near his home completely covered his land with animal waste recently, up to 4 feet deep in some areas.
He thanked County Administrator Bob Weisman and County Commissioner Jess Santamaria for coming out and looking at the lot he was particularly concerned about.
“We live about three lots away, and the amount of flies and smell was just unbelievable, and after the recent rains, the roads were absolutely brown with runoff from this manure,” Aumen said.
He also pointed out that another lot owner had covered his lot with animal waste in the same manner a few years previously.
“I do want to respectfully disagree with the previous speakers,” he said. “I’m just trying to fix the egregious nature of this, not the regular use on small lots. I’m a horse owner, and we have two horses on our property, and I’m all for being able to spread that manure over. In our case, we have 5 acres.”
Aumen said the lot owner who had piled up the animal waste most recently had told him it was to prevent flooding. “It wasn’t for agricultural purposes, and for me, it doesn’t matter what the reason is — too much is too much,” he said.
Aumen said he thought the limit of 20 cubic yards per acre in 12 months, allowed under the proposed changes, was plenty for even the most ambitious agriculturalist, and that the setbacks for water bodies and well fields were also important.
“I’m a water quality specialist,” he said. “I’ve been working in the field of water quality for almost 40 years, and this is a very transmissive substrate. This runoff from these areas leach very quickly down into the groundwater.”
Palm Beach County Zoning Director Jon P. MacGillis explained that the amendments were aimed at striking a balance between people applying fertilizer for gardening and dumping farm animal waste on their property.
“We do have provision for exemptions if you’re spreading commercial fertilizer or compost manure, so people can still put that on their garden at any amount,” MacGillis said. “Ten cubic yards is allowed in a 12-month period. You can increase that up to 20, but this requires somebody to get a soil analysis off the existing soil conditions and working with the Agricultural Extension Office to determine… if that’s warranted based on the composition of the soil. I think what we’ve tried to do is provide balance.”
MacGillis explained that the amendments do not prohibit somebody from using manure on their property, but specify using it in a fashion that they are actually enhancing what they are trying to grow and not just dumping for some other reason.
Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker said her staff had met with concerned residents and listened closely to what they had to say, and then modified the proposal.
“We definitely did not want to put the small tomato-growing farmer out, but we definitely wanted to protect the neighbors and not continue with the issue that was going on,” Baker said. “We narrowly tailored this particular issue so we could address the issue that was brought forward.”
Baker said she believed that what was being recommended specifically addresses the application of proper amounts of fertilizer with the appropriate exemptions, in coordination with agencies that have oversight over manure.
Santamaria agreed that proper balance is needed to take care of everyone’s needs and concerns. He asked whether there will be time for further fine-tuning of the amendments, and MacGillis said the first reading would be July 28, with adoption scheduled in August.
Santamaria said he wanted to continue meeting with the parties involved to see if there are other appropriate changes to be made to take care of everyone’s needs and concerns.
Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Priscilla Taylor asked about soil analyses, and MacGillis said the intent was to determine how much more fertilizer, if any, was needed to enhance the soil on a particular piece of property.
“The Agricultural Extension Office has indicated there are some properties that don’t warrant bringing any type of fertilizer in because of the condition of the soil already,” MacGillis said.
Planning, Zoning & Building Director Rebecca Caldwell said that after public input, staff set the amount to a maximum of 20 cubic yards per acre allowable before a soil analysis and nutrient plan was required. She said county staff avoided the dumping regulations that have been put in place in Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves, where illegal dumping was an issue, because the county’s concerns were more specific.
“The phosphorus and nitrogen specifically are the items that can cause severe problems,” Caldwell said. “Wellington has a severe phosphorus overabundance right now. If you bring that onto your site, you can kill everything that’s there if it comes in inappropriately. That’s why the nutrient plan makes all the sense in the world.”
Commissioner Shelley Vana said she favored the amendments.
“This discussion has been ongoing forever,” Vana said. “As I represented Wellington in the legislature many moons ago, that had been an ongoing discussion. I think it’s really good that we have the Ag Extension involved and the Department of Environmental Protection, because this phosphorus, be it biological phosphorus from animals, it still is going into our water supply, and it will be a problem we have to deal with eventually.”
Taylor made a motion to grant preliminary approval to the amendments, which carried unanimously.