Nuco green-lighted, DeSoto gets $115 million project

Arcadia real estate broker Mac Martin spoke in favor of bringing Nuco Citrus to DeSoto County. He represents property owners in the land sale along State Road 72.

The name fits with what’s happening in DeSoto County.

Nuco Citrus LLC — Nuco an abbreviation for New Company — got a special exception on Tuesday to operate on land zoned for agriculture. With the unanimous vote by the DeSoto Board of County Commissioners, Delray Beach-based Nuco is readying to shovel on a $115-million citrus processing plant along State Road 72 west of Arcadia.

Nuco in a 25-acre complex will convert citrus peels and juice leftovers to pectin, a thickening fiber used in products from buns, beverages and Burt’s Bees. It is a nearly $1 billion market run mostly in South America. Nuco would be the first such American pectin processor in decades, according to company officials. The company will own nearly 200 acres.

That Nuco’s production plant will be in Florida seemed to push decisions in the company’s favor Tuesday. A “Made in DeSoto County” label rang the bell for Commissioner Elton Langford and commission Chair Judy Schaefer, for instance, both favoring the land exception with conditions such as noise-limiting berms and strict safeguards of water discharges from the 137,000-square-foot processing plant. The final vote was 5-0.

Schaefer also congratulated Nuco for its guarantee to seek DeSoto workers and for a partnership with South Florida State College in skills training, to “keep our young people staying here,” she said.

While Tuesday’s hearing was nothing like the angerfest in July over rezoning farmland to industrial mining for Mosaic Fertilizer, there were concerns. That 200 or so neighbors live within a radius of Nuco, and that it will produce odors and noise, didn’t sit well with some. Yet supporters paraded before commissioners to welcome Nuco, which estimates a 125-member workforce and some $2 million in annual tax returns to DeSoto’s parched coffers. “I believe our commissioners did listen to our concerns,” said Darvy Pedin, a Nuco neighbor initially speaking against the special exception.

The rich irony of a Mosaic Fertilizer executive speaking against Nuco wasn’t lost on the very man complaining. Bart Arrington, a Mosaic mine permitting manager living within Nuco’s radius, at first had strong reservations about the citrus processor locating in his backyard.

But after closer reviews of Nuco’s plans, Arrington spoke in favor Tuesday. However, he added that firms in DeSoto County seeking special terms and that have some public disapproval such as Nuco had, should receive a balanced analysis. “Human existence requires risk,” he said.

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