Wellington officials tackle stinky issue: What to do with horse manure

Officials gathered this week to tackle issues surrounding one of the village’s stinkier problems: horse manure.

How much livestock waste is in Wellington and what to do with it were two of the key topics at Wednesday night’s Equestrian Preserve Committee meeting. The short answer to both problems: There is no easy answer, project manager Mike O’Dell told committee members.

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The most recent stall counts done this year show there are about 900 barns with more than 10,000 stalls in Wellington. That number doubles when looking at the entire county, O’Dell said.

During the equestrian season, there are about 28,500 horses in Palm Beach County with half of those in Wellington, O’Dell said. That number drops to 14,000 horses in the county outside season, he said.

With each of those horses producing about 50 pounds of waste per day, that means Palm Beach County faces more than 193,000 tons of waste per year, O’Dell estimated.

What to do with all that waste has been at the forefront of Wellington planners’ minds for more than a decade as the equestrian industry boomed in the western communities. The village has set rules for manure haulers, including licensing companies while providing them a list of approved disposal sites.

Manure is most likely to end up in four places, village planner Ryan Harding said: On sugar cane fields to Wellington’s west, at the Solid Waste Authority to be burned, as a soil additive for local farmers or at illegal dumping sites. Those illegal dumping sites could be intentional, or it could be that farmers are unaware of state rules for spreading manure, Harding said.

“We need to have all of the disposal going to legal facilities that are licensed and permitted to take on livestock waste,” O’Dell said.

Though the village over the past several years has found more options for dealing with waste, big questions still remain when someone comes forward with a good idea, O’Dell said.

One of those solutions: Processing manure to create fuel or recycle bedding. However, those facilities would need to be in an industrial-zoned area, and manure processors have hit roadblocks trying to find areas that will accept them, O’Dell said. “No matter where we go with this, we’re going to hear, ‘Not in my backyard,’” he said.

In addition to finding space for a facility, processors also must show the village they have clients who will buy their products. “We need an end user that’s going to do something with this waste,” O’Dell said.

Another option for making manure collection more efficient: transfer stations. At these facilities, which do not need to be on industrial land, manure is transported in smaller trucks and transferred to larger vehicles before being taken to a final destination.

Wellington has permitted one transfer station operator so far and another applied recently, O’Dell said. A hauler who briefly ran a transfer station in Loxahatchee Groves told O’Dell the facility helped make his operation more cost effective while meeting all deadlines from clients.

The village also is looking at on-farm disposal options, O’Dell said, citing farms in Marion County where waste from hundreds of horses helps generate energy. “They actually have wastewater treatment plants on some of those sites,” he said.

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