FT. MEADE, Fla - Ft. Meade city commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to move forward with their efforts to shut down a controversial wastewater treatment facility.
The commission approved multiple motions, including authorizing the city to file a lawsuit and terminating delivery of sludge from the city's sewage treatment plant to the site.
"I can say this - the city is doing everything possible to stop the odor," Ft. Meade city attorney Tom Cloud said.
For months, Ft. Meade residents have been complaining about a disgusting smell coming from a wastewater treatment facility off U.S. 17. Despite company representatives saying they are making immediate changes to alleviate the problem, city leaders decided to hold a special meeting about the issue on Tuesday.
"Living in an area with a smell like that, I don't think it's good or healthy," said LaVerne Harvey, a resident who lives across from the facility.
Harvey told ABC Action News she used to sit out on her screened patio and eat but can no longer do so because of the intolerable smell.
"Smells worse than eggs to me," she said.
"It's unbearable at some points," said Alfonso Cortez, an employee at the neighboring Badcock Furniture Store. "Some customers have walked out because of the fact they can't take the smell."
RESIDENTS LODGE FORMAL COMPLAINTS
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Biosolids Distribution Services at 1491 N.W. 14th St., began operating in November 2013.
There were no complaints to the DEP until March 2014.
FDEP officials conducted a site visit in response to the complaint and there was no odor at that time, according to Ana Gibbs, FDEP spokesperson based in Tampa. Gibbs added there was a subsequent visit in July following several more complaints but again there was no odor.
The Bioset process was granted the Class AA Equivalency by the federal Environmental Protection Agency Biosolids Committee and during the inspection all of the treatment plant controls and demonstrations appeared to be met, Gibbs explained.
CITY OFFICIALS CONTACT FDEP
Subsequently, Ft. Meade City officials reached out to the FDEP and sent them a list of complaints against the facility.
On August 1, FDEP conducted another on site visit and found an objectionable odor, Gibbs said.
Gibbs added that FDEP staff then met with city leaders to discuss their complaint investigation and plans to help resolve the nuisance.
A later dated August 6, and provided to ABC Action News, shows a compliance letter was sent to Biosolid officials.
The company responded in another later five days later, outlining various measures to address the FDEP's concerns including working with engineers to explore odor control options.
According to Gibbs, company officials indicated they were committed to addressing the odor problem.
FDEP inspectors again met with facility representatives on August 19 to discuss progress.
FACILITY REPS COMMIT TO IMMEDIATE CHANGES
Peterson & Myers, the law firm representing the facility, sent a letter to the FDEP documenting the changes being made to do away with the odor.
The facilities measures, according to their attorneys, include:
- Reducing the amount of raw material coming into the facility by 40% by redirecting it to other locations.
- Raw material is now brought to the western door instead of the eastern door where residences are located.
- The east door has been shut and will remain shut.
- Planting of 100 eucalyptus trees along the perimeter of the site to absorb odor.
- Installation of two temporary air scrubbers inside the facility to control potential odors before they leave the site.
- Installation of five deodorizing mist/spray devices to neutralize odor before it has a chance to leave the facility.
In addition, the facility hired Jacobs Air and Water to propose engineering solutions. Attorneys for the facility say Indoor air sampling is planned and ultimately, the company hopes a new facility with a receiving station, which would allow the raw material to be directly moved into the treatment process at the point of delivery, may resolve the odor concerns.
"We're here and we're committed to making these modifications. We're working as closely as we possibly can with FDEP," the company's attorney Bart Allen told the city commission.
CITY MANAGER CALLS SPECIAL MEETING & HIRES ATTORNEY
Ft. Meade City Manager Fred Hilliard spent Tuesday morning meeting with an attorney in Orlando over issues with the wastewater facility.
He described the odor this morning as 'unbearable.'
While Hilliard would not directly say what he discussed with the attorney, he did say they went over their options. He added he called tonight's meeting to discuss those options with citizens as well as to silence concerns over
what action is being taken.
"You have to dot your i's and cross your t's," said Hilliard.
NEIGHBORS NOTE NO CHANGE IN ODOR
Despite the facility saying they made immediate changes, Harvey has not noticed a change in the smell.
She told ABC Action News the only thing that make breathing the air bearable is when the wind blows in another direction.
And the added temperatures are not making the smell any better either.
"It blows right at you," she said.
Harvey added she can no longer keep her windows open.
After the vote, Allen said he was "disappointed." He declined an on camera interview, saying he needs to get in touch with his client to see "where it goes from here."
Cloud, the city attorney, said the city plans to file this lawsuit as soon as they can, adding that the ball is already rolling.