Last Updated: Thursday, April 20, 2017, 9:29 PM EDT
B.S. Ranch and Farm defended its business against Polk County residents and the county on Thursday, as it faces shutdown and potentially thousands of dollars in fines.
- Nearly a dozen residents spoke at hearing
- Residents complained about foul odor from business
- Lawyer representing business: no evidence proving odor comes from them
The soil manufacturing farm's code violation hearing turned out to be more like a day-long trial, with nearly a dozen people testifying about the noxious smell they believed originated from B.S. Ranch and Farm.
"I couldn't open my windows because of the stink," said resident Linda Bowman. "Sometimes, I couldn't ride my bicycle because of the stink."
Polk County issued B.S. Ranch and Farm a cease and desist letter in March, citing code violations. The county asked them to to stop their operations until off-site odors were mitigated.
The county accuses the business, which accepts waste, outdated foods and bio solids and converts them to soil, of violating the cease and desist order, and also misrepresenting the tangible effect their operation would have on the surrounding area.
“From the county’s position, it's a case about [an] applicant who materially misrepresented to the board of county commissioners during their application process that it would not be off-site objectionable odors," said Polk County Assistant County Attorney Randy Mink.
B.S. Ranch and Farm's lawyer, Julie Ball, denied that claim, and said her client had followed the process in the code. Further, she put forth to Special Magistrate Nicolas J. Troiano that there was no evidence to prove the noxious odor was coming from the ranch.
"The county wants you to shut this company down," said Ball. "It wants you to un-employ 22 people, have them lose their jobs because of unsubstantiated odor coming from an industrial area where everybody else is making it smell."
Almost a dozen people testified at Thursday's public hearing on B.S. Ranch and Farm's code violations. (Stephanie Claytor, staff)
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has said the ranch is out of compliance with its permit, and said its inspectors detected off-site odors coming from the business on five occasions. The agency did confirm, however, that they are working with the company to mitigate the odors.
After nearly eight hours, the hearing ended with Troiano saying he was not prepared to make a decision that day. He asked that both sides submit two pages of closing arguments no later than April 26, and that he would make a decision soon after.
Should the magistrate decide against B.S. Ranch and Farm and force them to shut down, the company would face defaulting on $3 million in loans in addition to the thousands they would owe in fines, according to company accountant Richard Peasley. The machinery and materials used by the company are reportedly worth $2 million.
Some residents told us they aren't just mad about the smell. They also want to know about what the waste is doing to their land and their water supply. They said they were hopeful more testing would be done.