The Wellington Village Council is trying to find a central location to temporarily store the enormous amount of animal waste generated by the equestrian industry in order to get it hauled away economically and legally.
In a workshop Wednesday, village staff told council members that they have been collecting data on the amount of waste the horse industry creates, as well as central locations that might be considered for a collection facility.
Village Manager Paul Schofield said that there is a lot of data but a limited number of locations to be considered, adding that they are still months away from a final decision.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she did not understand why animal waste is a problem for the village to address.
“The village doesn’t own horses,” she said. “This is a product coming from private owners. If this is not getting where it is supposed to go, I want to know where the problems are with this and why we are asking the municipality to take care of it. You need to convince me that it is something we need to do.”
Mayor Bob Margolis said the issue has been growing and has to be addressed. “I’m not asking for special exceptions,” Margolis said. “I think the process is going to be overburdened.”
Projects Manager Mike O’Dell said that village staff has been looking at how to address the problem, explaining that they have been working with haulers and end users. “This is a product that has potential to be useful to the end user,” he noted.
Wellington’s horse population fluctuates from about 12,000 horses from January through May to 3,000 from June through September. “What we do know is a 1,000-pound horse generates about 50 pounds of waste a day, which is about nine tons a year,” he said. “When you add bedding, it is a combined total of about 12 tons a year per horse.”
O’Dell said that phosphorus is one of the major pollutants that harm natural wetlands. There is about 2.5 pounds of phosphorus in a ton of manure.
“We want it removed so we are not putting it back in the soil and water,” he said. “The monthly average is important. As we move from the off season to the season, it picks up dramatically.”
The waste is carried by 10 haulers who work 12 to 14 hours a day during the season, O’Dell said.
He pointed out that Loxahatchee Groves recently enacted an ordinance that eliminated the ability for manure to go in or out of that community, and Palm Beach County also enacted regulations for unincorporated areas.
O’Dell added that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has been a good partner at enforcement with its environmental unit. “There is still the issue of trying to dispose of it in an economical way,” he said.
O’Dell has met with haulers and five end users, as well as three or four companies interested in a startup, but most of them are not haulers.
“That’s a key component,” O’Dell said, explaining that U.S. Sugar and haulers have told him that 75 to 80 percent of the material has been delivered to its facility. He also clarified that the end users are not haulers, who support a central collection facility. “They said a drive distance of 5 to 10 miles makes sense to them. Drive time is critical to haulers.”
Currently, there are five available end user sites, ranging from 11 to 83 miles from Wellington, including the Solid Waste Authority 19 miles away, which charges a $42-per-ton tipping fee, Atlas Peat & Soil 11 miles away, and U.S. Sugar 20 miles away.
O’Dell said there needs to be a central location that is convenient and local for haulers, making it an economical and legal alternative to illegal dumping, as well as a facility to store vegetation waste, which would be added to the livestock waste to maximize burning.
Wellington staff has identified several potential sites, including Palm Beach Aggregates, two sites along Flying Cow Road, property owned by the school district off 120th Street and the village’s wastewater treatment plant.
O’Dell said the village’s options currently are to do nothing and let law enforcement and governmental ordinances regulate compliance or allow more time for the private sector to resolve the issue; for the village to purchase or lease a collection site and build and operate a collection facility; or to pursue public/private partnerships to operate centralized collection locations.
O’Dell added that a central location would only be for temporary storage until larger trucks pick it up for transportation to end user sites, pointing out that the composting process requires a minimum of 30 days using modern composting techniques.
Schofield explained that the critical element to addressing the issue is more stringent federal standards for water quality. He is concerned that nutrient measurements that are currently taken from the C-51 Canal will be taken from inside the village itself.
Councilman Matt Willhite said he thought the issue was more of a hauler problem.
“They are looking to save themselves money,” he said. “That throws a different perspective into what has been presented.”
O’Dell said that is a legitimate way to look at the issue, but haulers are also looking at more rigid enforcement, as well as hauling costs that will continue to go up.
Willhite said he did not favor the “do nothing” option but wanted to thoroughly investigate the other options before deciding to go into the animal waste disposal business.
“Before we start a site, the horse people have to talk about it, and the haulers have to talk about it,” he said. “With sugar taking most of it, it seems to be a great benefit.”
Schofield said the village’s responsibility is water quality. “We are bearing that cost today,” he said.
However, Schofield stressed that it is a myth that Wellington disposes large volumes of animal waste in Loxahatchee.
One of the issues with disposal at U.S. Sugar has been some haulers’ use of smaller trucks. “They prefer larger trucks,” Schofield said.
Councilman Howard Coates said that a central facility is critical to the sustainability of the horse industry in Wellington.
“I think we’re looking at this entirely wrong,” Coates said. “We value the sanctity of the Equestrian Preserve Area, and we are in competition with countless other communities that wish they had what we have. I’m not sure it’s not a village problem. In my opinion, a village-run facility is something we should look at.”
Schofield said that Wellington is years away from actually moving forward with a collection facility.
He added that a central collection facility would utilize 100-yard trucks to pick up the waste and haul it away, which would present another issue to solve.
Margolis asked what the next step would be, and Schofield said his staff would start talking to the village’s committees and report back to the council.
“I wanted the council completely up to date,” he said. “We are looking for policy direction. We will be back at the beginning of the year.”