POLK COUNTY – The Polk County landfill is expanding and Polk County government recently reached a settlement against a local bio-solids recycling facility after spending “hundreds of thousands” in taxpayer money on outside legal fees.

In December 2016, Polk County staff recommended to the commission to approve a permit allowing BS Ranch to manufacture soil by mixing ground yard debris with bio-solid waste from water treatment plants on a few hundred acres just west of the Polk County landfill. Soon after, the commission voted to instruct county staff to file litigation against the property owner citing strong odors coming from the facility and allegations of waste seeping into nearby wetlands.

“I want to commend staff and the consultants for cleaning up a mess that we made back when we approved this going on two years ago,” County Commissioner George Lindsey said Oct. 2. “Based on the representations at the time, of my six years on the board, this is the vote that I regret the most.”

Commissioner Lindsey said that he had little confidence that the settlement would resolve the allegations. Commission Chair Todd Dantzler also expressed frustration about the settlement saying, “It is what it is.”

In court documentation, BS Ranch president Brandy Stanton said if there are odors near BS Ranch, there are multiple other sources, such as the landfill nearby, which may be the source and that BS Ranch staff have taken steps to limit odors produced by manufacturing soil from recycled waste. Stanton could not be reached for further comment.

According to Polk County Attorney Michael Craig, the settlement creates a path for BS Ranch to be compliant with code enforcement within a year and that there is still a means to legally fight the business owners if they are non-compliant in the year-long process. Craig further stated the eight legal cases against BS Ranch cost county taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

Early in the litigation process, Commissioner Lindsey made a motion to hire outside counsel familiar with wetlands issues. County Manager Jim Freeman hired Polk Regional Water Cooperative lawyer Ed de la Parte of Tampa for the job. Using a freedom of information request, the Winter Haven Sun learned that county taxpayers have paid the Tampa lawyer more than $1M over the last two years for work on this case and controversial litigation against SWFWMD on an unrelated issue.

A Texas firm called Tri Con Works won a $1M contract to install a new methane gas collection system at the expanding Polk County landfill. The local firm of Chastain-Skillman won a $178K contract to design the system.

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