Wellington Council Attempts To Settle Differences Between Staff, Equestrians On BMPs

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

The Wellington Village Council acted as a mediator Tuesday, Aug. 9, attempting to settle years’ worth of differences that have simmered between village staff members and members of Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee.

At issue were revisions to the Best Management Practices (BMPs) that Wellington requires equestrian properties to adhere to. Over the past two years, Wellington has been revising its entire code of ordinances, including the BMPs. Conflicts between staff’s wording and the committee’s preferred wording has led to sharp differences as the committee attempted to tackle the issues several times.

In the end, the council was provided with two versions of the ordinance and had to figure out the final wording for itself.

Staff’s position was that the requirements were necessary to adhere to the village’s permits approved by the South Florida Water Management District and other state agencies that oversee water quality.

The committee’s position was that some of the rules create huge hardships for equestrian property owners and do little to protect the environment.

For more than two hours, going line-by-line through the differences, the council more often than not agreed with Wellington’s staff. However, they granted a huge win to equestrians by dramatically easing the strict provisions surrounding horse wash facilities.

Currently, separate horse wash areas are required with their own drainage systems, along with expensive “horsehair interceptors” that the equestrians argued were of questionable use. Most of the wording regarding the horse wash areas was made discretionary by the council, including the horsehair interceptors. Village staff also wanted strict drainage regulations on horse wash areas, even those that do not connect to the village’s drainage or sewer systems. The council agreed with the committee to strike that wording.

In other areas, the changes were less dramatic:

• Regarding the definition of a “livestock facility,” the council agreed with staff, not the somewhat looser definition preferred by the committee.

• Regarding manure bins, staff wanted strict requirements to keep manure bins water-tight, which will remain. Staff also wants permits for manure bin changes that reflect more than a 30 percent change; the committee wanted less-specific wording. The council agreed with staff. Manure bins must currently be inspected annually. Both staff and the committee agreed to change that to every other year but disagreed on the wording. The council chose wording to specify the extended timeframe.

• There was also an issue regarding large-scale manure composting facilities, which the committee did not want allowed in the Equestrian Preserve Area. The staff believes composting facilities could be a necessary part of solving the village’s manure issues. The council favored allowing the facilities, but wants more specific wording worked out before the ordinance is finalized.

The majority of the Equestrian Preserve Committee members were present at the meeting to advocate for their changes.

“What does the inspection of a manure bin have anything to do with floodplain management? Do you have any data or science behind why this is necessary? Do you have the personnel required to do these inspections?” Committee Member Haakon Gangnes asked. “Also, how can you enforce these BMPs on agriculturally exempt property?”

Committee member Dr. Kristy Lund thanked the council for sending the item back to the committee to make sure that its recommendations were fully documented. “The EPC spent two more meetings and many hours to make sure we got our final language correct, and I’m glad you have it in front of you today,” she said.

Lund argued against requiring horsehair interceptors.

“The horsehair interceptor exists nowhere else in the world because it serves no function,” she said. “This is all a huge burden when you try to build on your property. You can’t fit it all in. If we want to attract and keep horse people here, we need to get rid of this.”

Committee Member Carlos Arellano said the overly strict regulations have an effect on the equestrian industry. “The people think that if you come to Wellington, it’s better to buy an existing barn than to go ahead and build a new barn,” he said. “We all want the best for Wellington, and that’s not the argument we want to hear.”

Committee Member Ben Myers thought the rules regarding horse washes were unnecessary. “I have raised two daughters, and my daughters definitely put more hair and shampoo down the drain than my horses do. All we’re talking about with horse washes is water and soap,” he said.

Committee Chair Jane Cleveland said she that was shocked by how difficult it was to work with the village staff on this issue.

“We spent four meetings on this, and they were the most difficult meetings I have ever run,” she said. “I had to put one of them in recess because it got so hot. We spend hours of our time to give you advice, and instead, we’re just struggling with the staff.”

In the end, the council unanimously approved the ordinances as amended. The second and final reading of the changes is scheduled for October.