Seeking to ease nuisance concerns of nearby residents over a proposed agricultural processing plant, principals of Delray Beach-based Nuco Citrus LLC will be on hand for a town-hall-style gathering tonight.

They will detail plans for a $120 million plant to convert citrus peels and other juice-making leftovers to pectin and other marketable oils. Details on hiring for the approximately 110-person workforce also likely will be available.

The gathering is from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. at the Turner Agri Civic Center, 2250 NE Roan St. Company executives will answer questions and a video explaining the project and environmental and nuisance safeguards will run on a loop.

The processing plant planned for 194 acres on the south side of State Road 72 west of Arcadia could open by the end of the year. But first, county commissioners must approve a special exception to put it on land zoned for agriculture. The target for opening is October, said Michael Taber, DeSoto County economic development specialist.

“They want to be open and ready for harvest season of 2019,” Taber noted.

The plant would be the first in the United States to make pectin, a soluble fiber that helps thicken food and is found in everything from gels and laxatives to lozenges, and even cigars.

Some would-be neighbors, however, say they fear the operation could be more of a nuisance than the nearby Peace River Citrus juice plant that operates several months a year. The gathering organized by Nuco may help fill an information void the neighbors say they have encountered since seeing a posting for a special exception on the property.

“Nobody knows anything about this,” frustrated resident Marla Johnson said in an interview last week. She said this week she and her neighbors will turnout tonight at the Turner Center.

Taber said he lived in the vicinity of the proposed location for 20 years. The plant will fit in well, he insisted.

It will sit on about 25 of the 194 acres Nuco Citrus is buying. Taber said he expects only the plant’s driveway will be visible from the highway.

Don’t expect much noise or odors or ground vibrations, he said, though Nuco engineers concede their modeling shows noise decibels above acceptable standards.

Said Taber, “The process for how they operate and design” the facility “is less noise and less odor than even the juice plant.”

Taber said he lived live next to the juice plant and never had a problem with it.

The deeply sandy soil should keep down vibrations from the plant, according to Taber. The closest home will be 1,214 feet from the plant, Nuco told county planners.

“As far as the environmental impact, it is a water-intensive process,” Taber said. “They will recycle about 90 percent of their wastewater. Mostly, it be sprayed on a watermelon field connected” to the site.

Nuco says the discharge into the spray fields will be designed to maintain effluent quality within Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards.

Specific elements of the plan for treating and disposing of wastewater from the pectin-making process have not been fully decided. Nuco says plans likely will include an aeration pond and clarifiers for sludge removal.

The physical waste from production of the pectin and other oils will be processed as high-protein cattle feed for farms in the area, Taber added.

Since the plant will get most of its pectin-producing material from the Peace River Citrus processing, at least early on, Nuco wants to build across SR72 from it.

Speculation is that Nuco wants to build a conveyor belt below the highway. DeSoto officials say they have heard the rumors but note a below-road conveyor is not in current plans. Instead, the plan is to deliver the citrus product by truck from the nearby juice plant, they say.

The rank-and-file worker wage is expected to be between $20 and $25 an hour, according to Taber, who said the county is working to establish a processing-plant training specialty at South Florida State College, with a campus in DeSoto County. The program would be a workforce feeder for conventional juice plants as well as newly arrived pectin producers, according to Taber.

The economic development specialist said he expects new taxes from the pectin plant will appeal to county commissioners when they consider whether it merits a special exception to build on agri lands. Processing plants are among uses eligible for such special exceptions.

“They are taking a huge burden off the residents paying taxes,” Taber said, projecting that annual taxes to the county will be in the $4 million range.

Some of that would be adjusted the first three years, Taber in describing the main incentive the county offered Nuco to select DeSoto over sites in Georgia and California.

He said his office will propose abating about $700,000 in taxes the first three years of operation. The discounts would apply to assessments on the value of equipment, Taber said.

Before deciding on the special exception, county commissioners will learn whether the Planning and Zoning Commission thinks the project meets land-use rules, is environmentally sound and merits approval. The planning panel is scheduled to consider the special exception at its Feb. 5 meeting. County commissioners are scheduled to consider the land-use exception at their Feb. 12 meeting. Commissioners will hold a public hearing before taking the vote.

You should know: Noise concerns

DeSoto County’s land-use planning staff has recommended granting a special exception for a $120 million pectin processing plant on agriculturally zoned land on the south side of State Road 72 outside Arcadia.

The approval recommendation, however, carries conditions, chief of which is a mandate that developer Nuco Citrus LCC come up with a way to lower noise volume below levels suggested by the company’s current models.

County planners noted their trepidations in advising approval of the project considering all the unknowns surrounding it as the first to be built in the United States.

“Notwithstanding, as this facility is the first of its kind and there are no other facilities to which it can be compared, staff has concerns based upon the so-called ‘law of unintended consequences,’” planners said in noting why they set conditions for the project.

County commissioners will consider the request from Nuco Citrus at their Feb. 12 meeting. They first will receive a recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission, which is to consider the special exception on Feb. 5. Public hearings will precede the vote of the planning panel and county commissioners.

Nuco could have avoided the conditions the planning staff set had it sought a rezoning of its 194-acre parcel to light industrial. But asking for a special exception opened the door for the county to set specific conditions for approval.

In response to questions from county planners, Nuco consulting engineer Thomas C. Yonge of Golder Associate’s pledged that designers of the plant equipment would incorporate noise-reduction mechanisms into the machinery or come up with suitable sound barriers.

“During the final design and procurement process, NUCO will specify that the vendors use equipment that can meet the required noise levels or provide noise-abating hosing/structures if necessary o reduce equipment noise,” Yonge said in a reply to county officials.

Earl Hahn, DeSoto’s development director, said Tuesday the pledge “is not much of a guarantee” and said he will insist that Nuco report to the county annually on metered noise levels from the plant.

County planners say Nuco predicts sound pressure levels ranging from 72 dBA, a measure of sound detected by the human ear, to about 88 dBA. Based on emails received from Nuco, county officials say the vendor supplied equipment sound pressure levels range from a low of around 72 dBA to a high of about 88 dBA. Acceptable sound levels for residential in daytime are 55 dBA and 45 dBA at night.

“The overall noise level from the project will be calculated at the time of final design,” Yonge said in his report to planners.

The approval condition specifies that the distance of sound travel be measured at 300 feet or more from Nuco’s property line. The nearest dwelling is reported to be slightly more than 1,200 feet from the property line.

County planners also assessed traffic impacts of the proposed project, concluding that current highway infrastructure is sufficient to handle new traffic the project generates. Nuco will build two access-ways on SR72 to get traffic in and out of the plant. One will be for trucks heading to loading and unloading areas of the plant and the other for direct access for employees to the facility’s parking areas.

“The Nuco project,” planners said, “will not result in an impact to State Road 72, or State Road 70 road segments and the anticipated 262 calculated daily trips (maximum) are not anticipated to result in an impact on the current road segment.”

— Ted Carter

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