Business owner Ted Legakis shows Pinellas County Commissioners a photo April 1 of a business located next to Reliable Septic that recently closed its doors, reportedly due to the smell.
CLEARWATER - The problem began in 2011 with neighbors complaining about the smell coming from a fat, oil and grease plant at 6660 90th Ave. N. in Pinellas Park.
In August of that year, Pinellas County Utilities Division issued Reliable Septic and M & D a three-year industrial wastewater discharge permit. But, operations began without proper zoning, without the requisite zoning clearance and without an approved site plan.
The property was zoned C-2, and a FOG plant is not allowed in a C-2 zoning district.
After neighbors’ complaints, county staff inspected the plant and verified the problems. Air Quality Division issued a warning letter for objectionable sewage line odors. Before long, Reliable found itself in violation of several areas of county code.
On Aug. 27, County Administrator Bob LaSala issued a cease and desist order for operation of a FOG plant on the property.
But, M & D and Reliable continued its operations. The Department of Environment and Infrastructure verified several complaints during the month of September, including unauthorized discharges into the county’s stormwater system.
Despite stiff opposition from the neighbors, County Commissioners approved, 4-3, a resolution changing the zoning from C-2 to C-3 on Jan. 29, 2013. Commissioners John Morroni, Karen Seel and Norm Roche voted no. The zoning change allowed the facility to operate within the proper zoning district.
At that Jan. 29 meeting, Michael Albert, president of Reliable Septic, argued that the county had issued him a permit, which he put into use.
“I came to you in good faith,” he said. “You knew what I wanted to do.”
He talked about the expenses involved in the permitting process and the cost to comply with laws and regulations. He also talked about the money invested trying to meet the county’s requirements.
“I would not have spent $400,000 if I’d known about the rezoning and the uncertainty of that,” he said.
“We promise you if you approve the zoning, he will do what he needs to do,” said Kevin S. Hennessy, Albert’s attorney at the time. “We’ve been here for 40 years. He (Albert) wants to do this for his business and his family.”
On June 18, 2013, when the complaints kept coming in, County Commissioners agreed to get help from an impartial expert to resolve the continuing dispute. Fines of $500 a day for confirmed violations were accumulating. The owner was refusing to pay. And he accused the county of trying to put him out of business.
Ted Legakis, who owns a neighboring business, has been among the neighbors complaining since the very beginning. He was back before the commission April 1. He said the smells were continuing and complained that the facility was clogging the sewer.
He said the business next door to the plant had closed and a small grocery store nearby had closed the week before. Legakis has complained for years that it is bad for adjacent businesses to operate next to a FOG plant.
David Scott, director of the Department of Environment and Infrastructure, said there had been eight air quality complaints since June 2013 with seven confirmed. Recently operations have been moved back outdoors, which violates the site plan. During a recent rain event, a runoff violation occurred.
Currently the owner owes $22,000 in fines. He has paid $4,500 in fines over the years.
The facility’s permit expires in July. Scott said the owner has indicated he would not renew. He is reportedly looking for a place to take his waste.
Scott said staff was not currently considering revoking the permit and would allow the owner to “make a good faith effort” to update needed paperwork, which Scott had expected to receive on April 1. He also said Albert had fired lawyer.