Levy County prepares to end yearslong debate to block horse manure composting facilities
When Levy County residents became aware of manure-composting facilities coming to their community, they knew they had two options.
They could get involved and urge the county to ban the practice. That was option No 1.
Or they could say nothing about the plan to turn more than 80 acres of their community into a manure-processing operation.
They rejected Option No. 2
Now, after years of research and public debate within the local government, the community conflict is coming to an end.
The Levy County Commission has voted to add new ordinances to the land-use code and block commercial composting facilities that use farm animal waste from operating in the county.
This follows almost two years of community concern that the Levy County code is not strong enough to protect the rural county from what residents say are the negative effects that come with manure-composting facilities.
The untold number of privately owned horses in rural Levy County, which is located just east of Marion County, produce a never-ending supply of manure.
Horse owners eventually must dispose of the waste. Some horse owners pile it up on their property or spread it across their pastures using specialized carts for the task. Others pay for it to be removed and taken off the premise in truckloads.
Businesses that offer this service must operate with a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to compost the solid waste they collect.
Levy County residents have been battling to block these facilities in their county as the demand for horse manure removal grows in North Central Florida.
The business that received the most attention in this battle is Nature Coast Soils, LLC, owned by Reid Nagle. He also owns Black Prong Equestrian Village, a horse show facility. Additionally, he owns Big Lick Stall Rental and All-In Removal, a horse bedding and manure removal service.
Nature Coast Soils had acquired two properties, one in Morriston and one in Williston, both in Levy County. And he had filed with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to operate solid waste facilities on those sites.
Residents took their concerns to the county commission about the repercussions of having fields filled with manure in their area. They lobbied against the facilities at public meetings, wrote letters to county officials and signed petitions to show their opposition.
They saw the potential for stink, flies, water contamination, harmful byproducts potentially causing health problems, and the impact on nearby property values.
Jill Westbrook is especially opposed to the commercial composting. She owns property adjacent to one of the sites planned to house the manure, she said.
An appraiser told her the project would bring her property value down by 20-25%, she said at a Levy County Commission meeting on July 11.
“Who is going to be responsible for that?” she demanded of commissioners. “What is our recourse if something like that happens?”
She started an online petition in April to show the community’s opposition to the project. In three months, it gained almost 800 signatures. The county is home to about 45,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Williston Mayor Charles Goodman also opposed the facilities operating in his area. He said the negative impacts they would have on his city and the local environment were just too great, he said.
He met with the Williston City Council to discuss their concerns and evaluate the arguments in favor of bringing the composting businesses to the area. They all agreed that there was too much at risk. So, they sent a statement to the Levy County Commission saying that they were opposed to the manure composting.
After they sent that letter, the county commission voted to add new ordinances to the county code that would block the facilities from operating in the area.
“We were very pleased when they voted it down,” he said.
But he doubts that the issue is gone forever.
“They will retrench and try again some other way,” Goodman said. “But for now, it’s voted down.”
Not everyone in the area thought the business was a terrible idea.
“I think it’s funny that people are upset about it because we live out in horse country,” said Geoffrey Neal of Morriston, when he first heard about the issue. “People have to have a place to put this stuff.”
“We’re out here near the World Equestrian Center,” he said. “There’s almost as much horse s--- here as there is up in Washington.”
The Levy County Commission began discussing horse manure composting in January 2021, the same month that the World Equestrian Center opened, a staff memo revealed. They knew that the massive, new, horse show venue would cause an increased demand for manure removal in the area.
But horse manure composting facilities are not permitted in Levy County.
That’s only because they aren’t included in the allowed uses for any zoning in the county code.
So, county commissioners voted to adopt a resolution on Feb. 22, 2022, recognizing that commercial and industrial manure composting isn’t allowed in the county. But no specific legislation blocking the businesses was put in place.
Manure isn’t allowed at the Levy County landfill because it’s a Class 3 facility. Horse manure can only be accepted at a Class 1 facility, said Stacey Hectus, the county’s planning and zoning director.
A Class 1 waste facility can accept a wider range of solid waste materials that aren’t considered hazardous and can be dumped into a lined landfill, according to Florida Administrative Code. Class 3 waste facilities accept yard trash, construction debris, tires, asbestos, cardboard, plastic, paper and glass, and other things that don’t pose a potential risk to public health, according to the code.
And though Marion County also has a high demand for disposal of manure, composting isn’t such a concern there. The county has an indoor facility where manure is broken down and pelletized, Levy County Attorney Nicolle Shalley said in a public meeting on the matter.
Discussion on potential changes to the county’s land-use code has dragged on for more than a year after the resolution was adopted. Residents continued to worry about a lack of legislation preventing a manure-composting business from opening in their area.
Public hearings continued to be filled with local residents lamenting about how these facilities would affect them personally, if allowed.
They spoke of their worries that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would not enforce its own rules and hold a manure-composting operator to standards that would protect their community and the local environment.
On July 11, the Levy County Board of County Commissioners agreed that the county code needs to explicitly state that these types of facilities aren’t allowed.
They voted to amend the Levy County Code to make it clear that manure is a “special waste” that is not allowed to be brought to the county landfill for disposal or transfer. They also will continue to list manure-composting or disposal operations as prohibited.
They also agreed to recognize manure from horse barns as a part of normal farming operations, so horse-owning residents won’t experience increased difficulty dealing with their animal waste.
Shalley said she’ll work with the county Planning and Zoning Department and the Solid Waste Department to prepare the language of the ordinances.
WUFT requested comment from All-In Removal and Reid Nagle. Neither responded before publication.