A company applying to construct an equine waste treatment and recycling plant in the Everglades Agricultural Area withdrew its application at the Palm Beach County Commission transmittal hearing on Wednesday.
The applicants said they would try to settle issues that had come up with surrounding farmers, who said they would not be able to sell produce grown near such a facility.
The commissioners gave transmittal approval to the project in February in a 7-0 vote, with commissioners citing the longstanding need to address equestrian waste.
The applicant, Horizon Composting, had requested a postponement, but Commissioner Melissa McKinlay made a motion not to postpone, which failed for lack of a second.
Commissioner Steve Abrams made a motion to postpone, which was seconded, but McKinlay said she had met prior to the meeting with more than a dozen interested parties, as well as farmers who told her their ability to market their produce would be in danger if the operation were located in the agricultural area.
McKinlay, who had made the original motion to transmit the application, apologized that the possible negative effects of the facility had not been discovered until now.
Dan Liftman, assistant to Congressman Alcee Hastings, said many residents in the area of the site do not want the plant, including the City of Pahokee. He complimented McKinlay on taking action after meeting with concerned agricultural representatives.
“We oppose the move to postpone,” Liftman said. “It should be taken care of today.”
He added that the majority of the waste comes from Wellington and said it should remain there.
Resident Christine Schwartz asserted that it is impossible to get medicine out of horse manure, which is a concern for having the facility near agricultural production.
“It makes sense to put the solution where the need is,” Schwartz said. “With the lettuce, you cannot wash it out.”
Resident Ana Arroyo agreed that locating the facility in the Everglades Agricultural Area would be a threat to the vegetables grown there.
“We are asking farmers to take the risk,” Arroyo said. “We do not want this in the Glades. We are the winter vegetable capital of the world.”
Brian Terry of the Wantman Group, representing the applicant, said they are not out to damage the agricultural community. He credited McKinlay with spearheading the effort to find a horse waste solution. He added that the issue had come to light only a few weeks ago.
Terry said the new technology involves a process that possibly will not cause the dangers that old composting procedures posed.
“We are asking for the ability to postpone so we can have dialogue with the community,” he said.
McKinlay said that new information regarding food standards will probably make it difficult to locate the facility on the current site.
“I don’t see a situation where [there’s] anything we could do to remedy the situation on this piece of land,” she said. “The growers need to be part of that situation, so we have better understanding.”
Abrams said his intention with the original motion to postpone was to allow the applicants to speak with the wholesalers so they could discuss the state-of-the-art facility and whether it would jeopardize their crops or not.
Commissioner Hal Valeche said he thought the applicant had credible technology that deserved to be heard out.
“I think the tech is great,” Valeche said, “but there is an immutable force that the buyers of produce are not going to agree with this.”
Commissioner Mack Bernard favored postponing the project to give the applicant an opportunity to work on the issues.
McKinlay said she had met on April 17 with 35 representatives involved with produce production who explained the problems associated with the proposed facility. They convinced her that the application needs more work, and probably needs to be relocated.
Terry said his experts have been working to establish a relationship with produce buyers, including Kroger, Publix and Walmart, to work through objections, and explained that the facility does not compost manure but recycles it.
“What we’re being told is we can take appropriate measures at the time,” he said. “This is an opportunity to [treat] equine waste and not create a food safety risk. It’s a new technology, and there is an opportunity to explore it.”
McKinlay asked staff whether there is anything to keep the applicant from bringing it back, and Senior Planner Lisa Amara said that if the application were withdrawn, it could come back at any time.
After a five-minute break for Terry to speak with his client, the applicant withdrew the proposal.