Wellington Eyes Progress Solving Manure Woes

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

Dealing with manure waste is a big issue in the Village of Wellington. During the winter equestrian season, Wellington is home to 12,000 horses, producing a sizable pile of waste. The exact size and the proper removal of that waste has long been a point of contention and heated debate.

That number of horses can easily produce more than 17 million pounds of waste per month during the winter season, extrapolating from figures provided by Penn State extension services.

Horse waste is about 60 percent solids and 40 percent urine. On average, a horse produces .5 ounces of feces and .3 fluid ounces of urine per pound of body weight every day. This means a 1,000-pound horse produces about 31 pounds of feces and 2.4 gallons of urine daily, which totals around 51 pounds of total raw waste per day. With 12,000 horses in season, Wellington can easily produce more than 612,000 pounds of waste a day. The math adds up, as does the waste.

However, village officials are hopeful that a long-term solution may soon come to fruition. Through the years, various solutions have been presented by companies who have come forward with ideas, and some green lights have been given to remedy the problem.

Because of the large equestrian presence in Wellington, manure is a significant source of phosphorous — which if not controlled could wreak havoc on the fragile Everglades ecosystem. That’s a concern for the South Florida Water Management District, especially when the manure is dumped illegally.

Wellington has an ordinance that restricts land application of manure in certain areas and requires anyone transporting manure in Wellington to be a registered hauler.

Tracking the amount of manure and where it is dumped is important to both the village and Palm Beach County, which in recent years has cracked down on illegal manure dumping, most notably in Loxahatchee Groves and nearby unincorporated areas.

Equestrians need to help protect the environment, so using a permitted hauler is key, and knowing where the manure is headed is also important.

Wellington’s Assistant Planning, Zoning & Building Director Michael O’Dell has been working on the manure issue for many years.

“I don’t know if there is one end user that can solve the manure problem. A solution is really multiple solutions to how manure gets disposed,” O’Dell explained. “What we are concerned about is what happens if one or more of those end users cannot fulfill their obligation to dispose of all of the waste. How can we generate more end users to distribute the manure through the chain?”

One issue for potential end users — a manure-to-energy plant, for example — is how sharply the amount of manure varies through the year.

“There is no 365-day, seven-days-a-week supply that is consistent because it is based on our horse season,” O’Dell said. “We have this major influx for season in the Palm Beach County area. There is a lot of waste generated in season, but then it declines. This is going to be a challenge to an end user. We must be able to give them a quantitative number of how much waste is generated.”

Exactly how much manure is created throughout the county is also a source of debate.

“To my knowledge, we do not have a concrete number that we can give an end user of how much waste is produced from horse manure in Palm Beach County annually,” O’Dell said. “This information is needed for more investors to come up with a business plan. We don’t want these companies to fail. We want them to be sustainable.”

While some have demanded that the Village of Wellington be more proactive in solving the manure issue, village officials disagree.

“The Wellington Village Council has been very clear to me that this is a private-sector problem that needs to be solved by the private sector,” O’Dell said.

Manure waste has long been a major problem in Wellington, from illegal dumping to environmental hazards. Equestrian properties must now be outfitted with a proper manure bin that will not leak into the water supply. These bins are inspected on a yearly basis.

Having the manure stored properly until a permitted hauler picks the waste up is a step in the right direction and keeps the manure from leaching into the ground and nearby water sources — a key concern of the South Florida Water Management District.

While Wellington has put rules in place regarding manure storage, handling and hauling, the village believes that horse manure is not just a Wellington issue but an issue for the entire county.

Mayor Anne Gerwig noted this at a June council meeting, stressing that there are equestrian areas throughout the county. She wants the issue taken up by the Palm Beach County League of Cities through its issues forum, which she worked to put back together during her recent term as president of the league.

“Over and over, we have talked about the fact that manure is not just a Wellington problem,” Gerwig said at the meeting. “The government of Wellington doesn’t even own a horse to produce any manure. But it is a significant problem for the community; it’s a significant problem for our neighbors to the north and south, and particularly the county itself.”

There are many companies that have come forward to lend a solution, from producing green energy from the manure to cleaning and reusing the shavings. The various companies will have an uphill battle to find industrial land that can outfit such a facility or plant. But the economic rewards may be worth it.

Horizon 880 LLC is a Florida company using the HiPoint Agro Bedding Corp (HPAB) process to handle manure. The firm was recently awarded a lease by the Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority to build a plant on SWA-owned land. The facility should be up and running in six to nine months.

“My process is going to take up to 60,000 tons of stall residuals and take it to a facility that is completely undercover,” Horizon 880 partner Paul Cross told the Town-Crier this week. “We do a process of separation, drying, packaging, and we make a naturally hypoallergenic, dust-free horse bedding from the original stall. What is left over, which is the manure, is used to go back into the garden, as an organic soil amendment.”

Cross believes that his process is better than other ideas, such as a manure-to-energy plant.

“We are not a one-time use,” he explained. “If you create energy from this manure by burning it, or do anything with it that doesn’t recycle and repurpose it, it’s gone. Once the shavings are recycled once, we can go back and do this again and again using the same shavings. By recycling the shavings over and over, we can give a great price back to the equestrians.”

Only time will tell how well Horizon 880’s plan will work out, but Cross aims to be having an impact soon.

“We have signed a 20-year lease in Palm Beach County to process this waste,” he said. “We will be tracking the manure. This technology will track where the manure has come from, where it is going, and that it is dumped properly. By tracking it, we will have specific numbers.”

According to Solid Waste Authority documents, the SWA’s governing board directed the agency’s staff to solicit proposals for the potential use of an approximately 5.3-acre parcel within the SWA property for the construction and operation of an equine waste processing facility in October 2018. In November 2018, the SWA published a request for proposals and received one proposal from Horizon 880. No other companies came forward. The governing board directed staff to enter into negotiations with Horizon 880 on Feb. 13. The property was previously leased to Palm Beach County Road & Bridge according to the public letter in the Solid Waste Authority Agenda.

How has Horizon 880 overcome the hurdles to secure a lease for a facility on county land?

“We have listened to the county,” Cross said. “We have listened to what is needed. We don’t just go in there and say we have to solve this problem. Palm Beach County is very strict on how they do things. They want to protect their residents. So, we have worked with them to make sure that we are doing things correctly, safely, and we have proven what we can do.”