Members of Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee gathered Wednesday, Sept. 5 to view a presentation led by Director of Strategic Planning Michael O’Dell and planner Ryan Harding.
The subject was a familiar one for the committee: the growing volume of horse manure within the village and what to do with it. Many options were discussed, but nothing was decided.
“This is a big issue for Wellington and Palm Beach County,” Committee Chair Jane Cleveland said. “It’s a challenge. No one has answers yet.”
The issues O’Dell and his team are working on covered a wide range of topics. Among them were: food safety, in terms of how the manure affects agricultural land; environmental preservation by keeping the manure out of the Everglades; the increased volume of manure caused by a growing number of horses in the community, particularly during the winter months; and finally, crafting a long-term disposal plan.
Currently, the manure goes to a variety of locations, such as farm lands to the west, where it is used as a soil amendment, and the Solid Waste Authority, where it is burnt. Some also ends up in illegal dumping, although the village and the county have cracked down on illegal dumping in recent years.
“It needs to go to legal, licensed facilities,” O’Dell said. “You need a nutrient management plan for a farm. Palm Beach County regulates composting and gardening.”
A nutrient management plan determines what quantity of nutrients the agricultural land and the crops can uptake.
“They pile it 4 to 6 feet, thinking they’ve disposed of it,” O’Dell said. “But they’ve just created an illegal dump.”
Currently, no properties in Wellington are approved for final manure disposal.
The village recorded 85,000 tons of horse waste produced last year by some 9,000 to 10,000 horses.
The 2018 stall count was recently completed by the village. There are 652 parcels with 900 barns and 10,212 stalls. The number has grown steadily since the count began in 2012. There were 8,872 stalls in 2012, 9,259 in 2014 and 9,643 in 2016.
That first count in 2012 was accomplished by reviewing the permits for the entire village. It took four staff members three months to complete.
While there are some larger barns with more than 20 stalls, the dominant barn size in the village is between six and 20 stalls.
No stall count has been conducted for Palm Beach County, but it has been estimated there could be as many horses in the rest of the county combined as there are just in Wellington.
For the entirety of Palm Beach County, it is estimated there are 28,500 horses in season with 14,000 horses living in the region year round. This results in a staggering 193,362 tons of manure per year.
O’Dell said the village has been working with Palm Beach County to find a solution to the manure problem countywide.
“We’ve got enough trouble of our own,” Committee Member Carlos Arrelano said.
Several methods were discussed for manual disposal. Soil amendments, compost and fertilizer are already in use, but several new fuel processes were discussed.
The first method called for the manure to be dried and compacted into pellets. The pellets can then be burned for fuel. “Pelletization is big in the Northeast and Europe,” O’Dell said.
The next method is called gasification. This method could also provide fuel for the village’s vehicle fleet.
The final method is called biochar. Manure burns at a higher temperature than coal and is used by power plants and cement companies.
“The cost of setting up biochar is very expensive,” O’Dell said. “Millions of dollars are going into the operation. They need to know what your supply is. We have to quantify it.”
O’Dell stressed that no end user can invest in any of the plans without first quantifying the manure.
The variation in Wellington’s horse population throughout the year is also a concern.
“You can’t have four months on and eight months off,” Arrelano said.
To combat the problem, the village has enacted best management practices (BMPs) within Wellington to control the handling and storage of manure. For example, manure must be collected and stored in watertight bins to make sure it doesn’t leach into the groundwater.
The village has worked with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Environmental Crimes Unit to fight illegal dumping. Recently, the village has begun a partnership with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, which handles enforcement of Florida Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
Most impressively, the village worked with the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reverse the flow of water south of Pierson Road. The water now flows north into the C-51 Canal that runs alongside Southern Blvd. The water then flows west into a stormwater treatment area, where the nutrients are removed. The cleansed water is then released into a water conservation area. This system was designed to keep excess phosphorus out of the Everglades.
Any potential disposal site must be built on land zoned industrial, of which there is a very limited quantity in or around Wellington. Most of the county’s industrial land is in the eastern areas.
“Most of these zones are individually owned,” O’Dell said. “Some don’t want manure processing in their [industrial] parks. Some of it is near residential, and we’d have to deal with ‘not in my backyard.’”
One proposed site is off Pike Road and is currently owned by the Solid Waste Authority.
O’Dell hopes to have several transfer stations used during the upcoming season. These “trans-shipment” zones allow small loads to arrive on smaller trucks. At the station, the manure is cleaned, packaged and hauled away on larger trucks.
This method could bring a significant reduction in the fleet of trucks hauling manure. It would also be between 20 and 30 percent more cost effective and make haulers more efficient.
One individual has developed a machine that compacts the manure into one-ton bales, O’Dell said. Unfortunately, he would have to collect the manure from more than 600 farms. O’Dell thought it might work in concert with a transfer station, but the real issue is finding a destination for the manure in whatever form it was hauled away in.
“We need an end user who is going to do something with the waste,” O’Dell said. “We still have to have a place for it to go. The Solid Waste Authority is not a long-term solution — they don’t want it.”
Committee Member Robert Bushey asked O’Dell what they could do to help. “Give us a solution,” O’Dell said.