Sunbreak Farms drops biosolids fight

Sunbreak Farms drops biosolids fight

A years-long battle over the possible use of biosolids by a farm in St. Lucie County is over.

County leaders say Sunbreak Farms is no longer pursuing plans to use biosolids to produce compost on its property.

This comes as good news to St. Lucie County residents and county leaders who feared the use of biosolids on the 6500-acre property might pollute local waterways.

In 2018, Sunbreak Farms filed an application with the South Florida Water Management District to allow it to use biosolids for fertilizing.

The South Florida Water Management District denied their application, leading Sunbreak Farms to challenge that decision. The South Florida Water Management District had concerns when Sunbreak refused to provide water quality monitoring as part of its project.

St. Lucie County, Indian River County, and the St. Johns River Water Management District all supported blocking the use of biosolids by Sunbreak Farms.

County officials say Sunbreak farms filed a lawsuit against St. Lucie County because Sunbreak wanted to invalidate the St. Lucie County ordinance which governs the use of biosolids at commercial composting facilities.

Now, Sunbreak Farms is no longer pursuing that potentially costly and lengthy lawsuit. Sunbreak Farms also dismissed its petition challenging the South Florida Water Management District.

“I was elated. I couldn’t wait to share the information with the citizens of St. Lucie County,” said Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky.

He was among the county leaders pushing the charge to block Sunbreak Farms' use of potentially harmful biosolids, containing bacteria, heavy metals and nutrients that can feed algae blooms, hurt sea life, and kill vegetation.

“Incredibly harmful. We know the seagrasses are affected on an annual basis and that comes and goes. But the sea animals- we’re seeing lesions on fish, cancers on dolphin,” Dzadovsky said.

There was no way to guarantee the biosolids would not end up in the nearby C-25 canal and Indian River Lagoon.

“It was stated by one of [Sunbreak Farm's] consultants that they would never have water discharging from their property. Three months later, [Hurricane] Irma came and St. Lucie County had more than 24 inches of rain in 24 hours. We were discharging from every element from all of St. Lucie into the lagoon, into the canals. So to say it couldn’t happen- it happened just months later,” Dzadovsky said.

But this doesn’t mean the bigger picture fight to control the use of biosolids is over, Dzadovsky said.

“The fact is if we don’t go after the systemic issues of the contamination of our waterways, it will continue to degrade our quality of life. It will continue to degrade out economic engine, which is our waterways.”

County officials are advocating state lawmakers to give them more power in the future to regulate businesses using biosolids inside the St. Lucie County watershed.

Dzadovsky hopes more scientists continue to look for new ways to address human waste, and what to do with it.

“We can find technology to make things better. We can task those scientists out there who can help to create the technology to better manage human waste and we’ve got to do that sooner than later."

Scripps Only Content 2020