The Palm Beach County Commission approved amendments to its unified land development code last week that included stricter control on livestock waste.
The decision was made at a county commission zoning meeting Thursday, Aug. 22.
Dr. Bill Louda of Loxahatchee Groves, senior scientist and professor of environmental chemistry at Florida Atlantic University, gave some recommendations for the commission’s consideration.
“This has been an ongoing project of mine since 2004,” Louda said. “You have to start thinking about point sources.”
As an example, he said he analyzed water from one local source that winds up in the South Florida Water Management District’s stormwater treatment areas that contained nutrients far higher than 10 parts per billion, the level being sought by the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
“I had a pipe coming out of a nursery in Loxahatchee Groves that I analyzed three times because I could not believe it,” he said. “I had to dilute the solution five times to get it on my ‘high-range’ reading. It came in at 24,410 parts per billion phosphorus. That’s 2,410 times [higher than] the Everglades target.”
He said all the canals are considerably above what should be sought after.
“Fifty-five to 75 parts per billion going into the C-51 [Canal] from all communities might be a good target because the water conservation areas and the filtering marshes should then be able to bring it down to what the Everglades should be receiving at around 10,” he said.
Louda asked whether the ordinance will be applicable to municipalities as well, and Zoning Director Jon MacGillis said it would only apply to unincorporated Palm Beach County.
Several municipalities, such as Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves, already have rules in place regulating livestock waste.
Kim Aumen of Los Flores Ranches near White Fences, whose husband Nick Aumen is a water quality specialist who had commented at a previous hearing about neighbors stockpiling large quantities of manure, said she thought the ordinance takes into account the diverse needs of the rural community, which includes small farmers, nurseries and horse owners such as herself.
“I think what you came up with allows for all of those things but protects homeowners from a situation like what we experienced, which is when something your neighbor is doing drastically affects your property value, your health, your quality of life and the environment that we live in,” she said.
Aumen said some in her neighborhood were bringing in large quantities of manure, sometimes spreading it 4 to 7 feet deep, into the easements all the way to the road. “It’s a lot different from someone who brings in a few piles of manure to spread in their garden,” she said. “Our quality of life was dramatically affected. Trucks were coming in at all hours of the night, especially at night, because I think they knew it was something they were not supposed to be doing.”
She explained that residents in her neighborhood use wells for potable water. “Professor Louda has a lot of experience, as does my husband, with water quality and how it percolates down into a well, so we’re very vulnerable to contamination. That’s our drinking water,” she said.
Aumen urged county officials to make sure the rules get enforced.
“The horse show in Wellington is obviously the source of much of this manure,” she said. “It’s exciting and wonderful to go to. I’m a horse person. But it’s a serious issue. We need to make sure we’re not just taking one problem and passing it off to someone else’s back yard.”
Acreage resident Anne Kuhl said she believed the public should be adequately protected under existing regulations, and pointed out that the dumping sites mentioned previously on Sycamore Drive West and Cabbage Palm Way had not been considered by county code enforcement staff to be as dangerous as they had been presented to the commissioners.
“The code enforcement report that I obtained through a public records request shows a much different picture,” Kuhl said. “It indicates that code enforcement monitored the site with eight visits during the three-month period with comments such as, ‘does not appear to be a code violation at this time,’ ‘less than 2 feet in depth,’ ‘mulch is not a violation.’”
She added that the Palm Beach County Health Department inspector was asked by code enforcement to go to the sites on Jan. 8 and returned to his office without filing a report. “His supervisors confirmed to me via e-mail that no violations under health department jurisdiction were found that day and no report was filed,” Kuhl said.
Responding to a subsequent anonymous complaint about the Sycamore Drive West property on Feb. 4, the same inspector returned and wrote a solid waste complaint that stated the property owner was using stable waste for soil enhancement and for growing palm trees and various plants, which was called a bona fide agricultural use.
“The complaint was closed with no further action required by his department,” Kuhl said, asserting that the Florida Right to Farm Act does not protect as bona fide agriculture the presence of waste materials that are harmful to humans or a public nuisance.
“The new livestock waste rules are not necessary to bring nuisance charges against a property owner for improper use of manure that becomes harmful to human or animal life,” she said. “Why create another layer of bureaucracy to take care of a problem that already has remedies?”
Palm Beach County Planning, Zoning & Building Executive Director Rebecca Caldwell said bona fide agricultural uses will still be exempted from the ordinance. “If we don’t have the authority to act, we can’t act, so we closed cases,” Caldwell said. “The fact that we closed cases does not negate the reality of the offensive nature of the situations that the Aumens and others suffered from.”
She compared waste hauling regulations of Loxahatchee Groves, Wellington and the county under waste haulers and receivers, pointing out that Wellington’s ordinance has no exceptions for storage, application or hauling. “Palm Beach County is only proposing to regulate the receipt of horse manure,” Caldwell said. “Receiving permits are required every time somebody in Loxahatchee Groves wants to have horse manure brought out to their site.”
Receiving of horse waste is not allowed at all in Wellington, except for Florida Department of Environmental Protection-approved or temporary facilities, she said.
“Palm Beach County is proposing that receiving permits would be required that would be good for three years,” she said. “Hauling permits are required by both Loxahatchee Groves and Wellington. We are not proposing hauling permits.”
Loxahatchee Groves does not require storage enclosures, while Wellington requires everything to be enclosed or contained. “We are not requiring containers or enclosures,” Caldwell said. “It has to be covered or enclosed, but no construction other than an enclosure is required.”
No setback requirements for spreading are proposed by Loxahatchee Groves, while Wellington does have setback requirements, and the county is proposing them.
“You can see what we are proposing is far more lenient than Wellington, whose problem is proportionately greater than what ours is,” Caldwell said, adding that in most cases it is also more lenient than Loxahatchee Groves.
“We feel that we can utilize these common sense-type approaches to enforce and prevent nuisance situations, and we at the same time are encouraging the use of the livestock waste for alternative energy,” Caldwell said.
Commissioner Paulette Burdick made a motion to approve the amendments, which carried 6-1 with Commissioner Jess Santamaria opposed.
ABOVE: The Palm Beach County Commission.