A busy meeting of Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee was held Wednesday, Oct. 7 and featured presentations on the village’s comprehensive plan and the ever-present challenges of dealing with horse manure.
The meeting began with a discussion of a horse manure processing facility being built outside Wellington on five acres of land leased from the Solid Waste Authority. It will be a fully enclosed structure where livestock waste is brought in and processed, refined and pasteurized, bagged and sold as shavings. It is just one of several ideas in the works to handle the seasonal flow of horse waste from the Wellington area and beyond.
Currently, Wellington has about 10,000 permanent stalls, plus an influx during season, producing an estimated 96,000 tons of waste, which experts consider underreported. Officially, about 57,000 tons goes to U.S. Sugar properties, where it is spread on the ground as fertilizer. But estimates are that the tonnage could be significantly higher, perhaps more than 80,000 tons. Another 36,000 tons go to the Solid Waste Authority, which is all that agency is permitted to accept. Wellington represents a little less than 50 percent of the total animal waste produced in Palm Beach County. During the off-season, it represents about a third.
Even if the new facility were ready immediately, it would only solve a small portion of the problem.
“We have conveyed to the 650 farms and 17 haulers that we need better statistics,” said Village Manager Paul Schofield, who attended the meeting.
The wrinkle is that U.S. Sugar has plans to stop accepting the horse manure. “We need to find someplace to put somewhere between 90,000 and 150,000 tons of waste,” said Schofield, who pointed out that while illegal dumping is way down in Wellington, it is reportedly up in neighboring communities. “The challenge is to find another place for that waste to go.”
Over the years, Wellington has struggled with the problem and seriously explored more than a dozen ideas to turn the manure into everything from mulch to bricks to energy.
“I am a proponent of public/private partnerships, and I know that where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Schofield, explaining that the biggest problem with such measures is that Wellington doesn’t have a steady supply of the raw material, with way more manure produced during the winter equestrian season. “Anything that can handle the material during the peak busy season isn’t profitable during the off season.”
Turning manure into energy is an appealing concept, he added.
“The village is not opposed to a public/private partnership, but we have not found anyone to partner with to produce electricity from waste,” said Schofield, remarking that it costs three times as much to turn it into electricity than what you can sell the electricity for.
Another problem is where to put such a plant. Wellington has no industrial land to use and is prohibited by law from spending its revenue outside of the village.
Wellington does have stringent regulations in place to control the flow of manure, which Schofield admitted does not make him popular with some equestrians.
“The only thing I and the village want is water quality and more water quality,” he said.
He explained that the village must meet strict standards for phosphorus in its runoff. That requires regulations on fertilizer and manure.
“We have looked at a lot of options and there were no circumstances under which we could make it work,” said Schofield regarding manure processing ideas.
He asked the committee for ideas — and buy-in from the equestrian community for those ideas.
“Horses are the main characteristic of Wellington. There is one on our logo, and horses are the thing that makes us unique,” Schofield said.
When it comes to making energy out of horse manure, the horse is a fairly efficient digester compared to other livestock, so its waste isn’t very energy rich.
“The only way I can see to make it viable to make energy is to introduce a vegetation stream into it, because in the summer, we have plenty of vegetation, and in the winter we have plenty of horse waste and not as much vegetation,” Schofield said.
Next, the committee heard a presentation on Wellington’s comprehensive plan. It and a balanced budget are the two legal documents required for the village to have on file.
“The comp plan is the single most important document that the village will adopt that will take us through the next 25 years,” Schofield said.
He asked the committee to review it and provide input over the next two months.
The purpose of Wellington’s comp plan is three-fold from an equestrian perspective. First is to maintain the elements of the equestrian lifestyle in Wellington. Second is to maintain a multi-modal transportation network in the equestrian preserve of trails and roads to accommodate traffic during the season. The third is to support Wellington’s equestrian competition industry.
“A comprehensive plan is aspirational by nature,” Schofield said. “It lays out plans for the future. As we approach build-out today, we are seeing development of land that was undeveloped until recent years; even some roadways had not been paved.”
Wellington’s comp plan is unique in the protections it affords the equestrian community.
“Wellington’s equestrian element is a county asset, and we try to market it throughout the county and around the world,” Schofield said. “Wellington has more than a $200 million economic impact from the equestrian events, and that’s just in Wellington. Only the medical industry is a larger economic driver in Wellington.”