CLEARWATER – The neighbors have been complaining for months about the smell coming from a fat, oil and grease plant at 6660 90th Ave. N. in Pinellas Park.
The Pinellas County Commission unanimously approved a request Oct. 2 from County Attorney Jim Bennett to initiate litigation against the owners of the FOG plant, Reliable Septic & Sewer Inc. and M & D Grease Disposal Inc.
The problem began in August 2011, when Pinellas County Utilities Division issued M & D a three-year industrial wastewater discharge permit, which specified the conditions for wastewater discharge for the operation of a FOG plant on the property on 90th Avenue N. However, Reliable and M & D began operations without “the proper zoning, without the requisite zoning clearance and without an approved site plan,” according to a report from Bennett.
The result was “numerous odor and stormwater discharge complaints over the last couple of months,” Bennett said.
County Staff inspected the plant and verified the problems and the Air Quality Division issued a warning letter to Reliable Septic & Sewer for objectionable sewage line odors. On Aug. 27, County Administrator Bob LaSala issued a cease and desist order for operation of a FOG plant on the property.
However, M & D and Reliable continued to operate the plant, as evidenced by continued complaints verified by the Department of Environment and Infrastructure during the month of September. The complaints included unauthorized discharges into the county’s stormwater system.
“In sum, all attempts to resolve the matter with M & D and Reliable have been exhausted,” Bennett said, explaining the reason for the request to pursue litigation.
The property where the plant is operated is zoned C-2. A FOG plant is not allowed in a C-2 zoning district. To continue operation, the property must be rezoned to a category that permits the use and the property must obtain the required zoning clearance.
In addition, Reliable also is in violation of several areas of county code, including the prohibition of discharge of objectionable odors, discharges to the stormwater system, lack of a site plan, prohibition of parking/storage of heavy equipment, such as septic/grease tanker trucks in a C-2 zoned district; and improper discharge of industrial sewage and waste.
According to a draft copy of the lawsuit, Attorney R. Todd Burbine, representing the defendants told the Local Planning Agency on Sept. 13 that operations at the FOG plant had ceased as of Sept. 12. On Sept. 24, Utilities Pretreatment Division inspectors visited the property and found that operations continued.
Now, the county will ask the courts to issue a temporary and permanent injunction prohibiting Reliable and M & D from operating the FOG plant until such time it can comply with county code.
Bennett said the LPA had given Reliable and M & D 90 days to provide the necessary information to support rezoning of the property and to present a site plan.
Commissioner Neil Brickfield said he had received numerous emails from residents complaining about the smell.
Brickfield asked how the county could issue a permit without checking to make sure the operation was located in area zoned for the use. Bennett said the county currently does not have a centralized system to check permits. However, he pointed out that the wastewater discharge permit does specify the additionally requirements for operation.
“The individual decided to proceed without checking the need for other permits,” he said.
The county is working on an integrated system, which LaSala said would create a “more holistic global development review.”