Allegations of improper manure hauling from Wellington into Loxahatchee Groves have led one business to shutter a manure-transfer site and officials to deal with a perennial concern in the western communities — the specter of illegal manure dumping.
And what could be a case of he-said, he-said has boiled over into an issue between the municipalities and a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigation.
Justin Hickey has owned and operated his hauling business, JH Hauling Inc., for about 28 years. He reached out to Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves last month to say one of his competitors was taking manure from Wellington to dump on a site in Loxahatchee Groves, a violation of both town’s rules. In Wellington, permitted haulers may only take manure to pre-approved sites. And in Loxahatchee Groves, haulers cannot bring waste into the town from outside.
Hickey told officials he had followed Wellington Agricultural’s trucks from the village to a site on the northwest corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and B Road in Loxahatchee Groves. He demanded the company’s permit to haul in both towns be revoked.
Officials also received emails from Melody Krell, who said she lives in Loxahatchee Groves and works for Hickey.
“Every day I have witnessed, followed, and taken pictures and video of a Wellington Agricultural … dumping huge mounds of horse manure they pick up in wellington and drop at a vacant warehouse,” she wrote.
Krell did not return multiple requests for comment. Hickey told The Palm Beach Post she does not work for him, but that he asked her for help following the Wellington Agricultural trucks.
Wellington Agricultural: All disposal by the book
Wellington Agricultural’s crews were not taking manure from Wellington’s to the site, said Jose Gomez, the company’s owner for 15 years. Rather, all waste on the property came from clients in Loxahatchee Groves, he said. Gomez and the property’s owner received a permit from Loxahatchee Groves to operate the facility and use it to transfer manure from within the town, per Loxahatchee Groves’ rules, town manager Bill Underwood confirmed.
“I have at least 40 to 50 farms in Loxahatchee Groves that I pick up manure from,” Gomez said.
With the town’s network of dirt roads, Gomez said it was easier, less expensive and safer for his drivers to pick up manure in smaller trucks, then transfer the manure at the Okeechobee Boulevard site to a larger truck that then would make the trek to the Solid Waste Authority’s waste-to-energy facility in West Palm Beach.
“We’re trying to become a green company and do it environmentally correct,” he said.
In response to Hickey and Krell’s complaints, Wellington asked PBSO to launch an investigation. The agency has two commercial motor vehicle, or CMV, units in Wellington and one in Loxahatchee, PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera.
In late February, one of those CMV units spent a day following Wellington Agricultural trucks. Two of the vehicles went to US Sugar, and another went west on State Road 80 past Lion Country Safari, Lt. Craig Turner told Underwood in an email.
“As of right now we have not found anything illegal regarding this incident,” Barbera said, adding that the CMV units “are constantly looking for these kind of violations.”
Gomez said this week he is cleaning up manure from the Okeechobee Boulevard property at the order of Loxahatchee Groves code enforcement. Then, he said, he will only use the site for his trucks.
“I’m done with Loxahatchee Groves,” he said.
Where to put all the waste in the West?
With the massive influx of horses to Wellington and surrounding communities during the equestrian season, officials have been challenged to find creative solutions for the tons of waste — about 50 pounds per horse, per day, according to one estimate.
About a dozen haulers are permitted in Wellington to remove the many mounds of waste, said Mike O’Dell, Wellington’s project manager who oversees manure haulers and the permitting process. Each hauler provides the village with an approved destination for the waste. If the hauler is caught deviating from that approved site, their permit can be revoked.
O’Dell pointed to a hauler this year who was caught improperly dumping manure at a site north of the village. The hauler was given a chance to clean up the unapproved site, or lose his permit.
“I had letters on my desk revoking his permit, but then I got the proof that he had cleaned it up,” O’Dell said.
One of Krell’s claims in her emails to officials was a lack of action by O’Dell, saying “he has given us the run around for three years, and not once has anyone even gone to the location to check on it.”
O’Dell said the location only came to his attention about three weeks ago. Gomez said he has been operating there since obtaining the permit from Loxahatchee Groves about a month ago.
Declining to address Krell’s allegations specifically, O’Dell pointed to the time and money Wellington has spent trying to curb illegal manure dumping.
“Who else has put CMV officers on the road?” he said. “Wellington is the only entity that has sent them to do that.”
Hickey, who lives in Loxahatchee Groves, insists there is a lack of enforcement — and that hurts his business. He said he loses about 10 percent of his business each year to unscrupulous manure haulers in Wellington.
“This isn’t a game for me,” he said. “I love Wellington. But I can’t tolerate illegal dumping in my own backyard in Loxahatchee Groves.”
Could it be the smell?
Both Justin Hickey and Jose Gomez, who combined have more than three decades of experience hauling horse manure, say it is not the source of a mysterious smell that recently has plagued residents of the western communities. Mike O’Dell, Wellington’s project manager in charge of horse-manure hauling and permits, also said he does not believe illegal manure dumping, or any manure dumping, is the source of the stench.