MW Horticulture has history of fires, compliance issues

Writer: Matthew Seaver

The most recent fire at MW Horticulture is not the first time the company has been in the spotlight for flames. WINK News has reported on fires at MW Horticulture in the past.

The San Carlos Park Fire Department has responded to MW Horticulture 131 times since 2015. They say there have been 23 fires at that location this year alone.

RELATED: Neighbors fed up with smoke from MW Horticulture fires

A group of people living nearby have had enough and are fighting back.

Chuck Weis retired from his job in Kansas in 2017 and has been living at the Fort Myers RV Resort with his wife during “Season” ever since. They moved for the fun and sun, but their sun and fun are increasingly eclipsed by smoke and ash from the MW Horticulture recycling facility in South Fort Myers.

“Everybody likes to sleep with their windows open if they can, can’t do it with the smoke flowing this way. And we get two predominant winds where it comes into this park. So it’s pretty bad,” said Weis.

He started a petition, demanding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stop MW Horticulture from “Being allowed to continue polluting our air with smoke from the daily condition they’re causing.” So far, 250 neighbors have signed on.

The DEP has an extensive file on the company, including inspection violations and compliance issues that date back to 2012.

Florida DEP released the following statement about the current fire and past issues:

The San Carlos Park Fire Department (SCPFD) is taking the lead on the current fire at MW Horticulture Recycling Facility, Inc. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been working hand in hand with SCPFD and Lee County officials to compel compliance and closure of this facility for the protection of public health and safety. You may want to reach out to the SCPFD for more details on immediate response efforts.

DEP has been attempting to bring MW Horticulture into compliance since early 2018, when violations of 62-709 Florida Administrative Code were discovered at the facility. DEP provided compliance assistance to the facility for eight months, after which it was determined that formal enforcement action was necessary because of the lack of progress in achieving compliance with the rule.

In August 2019, the facility was denied registration renewal.

Under Florida Statute, the facility had the right to challenge the denial, and they did, allowing them to continue operations until a Final Order was issued. On March 5 & 6, 2020, the challenge of the registration denial was heard by an Administrative Hearing Judge. Both DEP and facility representatives testified at the hearing.

On Dec. 15, 2020, DEP issued a Final Order adopting the Administrative Law Judge’s recommended order to deny the registrations for MW Horticulture and MW Horticulture North Fort Myers. For background, yard trash recycling facilities are not allowed to operate in the state of Florida without valid registration from the department.

MW Horticulture has continued to operate since that time, despite requirements to cease operations. As a result, DEP filed a Civil Complaint on April 2, 2021 alleging numerous violations. In addition to the immediate demand to cease operations at this facility, this action is also requesting civil penalties and clean-up activities to be conducted at the sites. The department is waiting for this case to be heard in circuit court.

DEP is committed to enforcing Florida’s environmental laws and holding environmental polluters accountable. DEP is closely assessing the effect of these recent fires to determine any further negative impacts to the surrounding community and is prepared to take additional enforcement action as necessary to protect the environment and health and safety of the community. We will continue to share information as we progress through this enforcement process.

To view documents and correspondence related to this facility, please see this link.

In March of 2021, the DEP denied MW Horticulture’s application to renew its annual operations permit, citing past violations that weren’t fully resolved including failing to get rid of long-sitting yard trash, failing to properly maintain a 20-foot wide all weather access road, and storing yard trash in a location that’s not easily accessible to firefighters and their equipment.

The accessibility issue is one that fire crews faced on Monday. The San Carlos Park Fire Department said their longest ladder couldn’t reach the heart of the fire deep in those massive piles of mulch.

MW Horticulture appealed the DEP denial.

Weis says he’ll push for change until this issue is extinguished for good. “I’m not interested in putting anybody out of business, but they have to control their ash and their smoke,” said Weis. “I think a lot of it, they’ve just got more than they can absolutely handle over there’s like three stories of mulch over there stacked up.”

San Carlos Park fire said DEP is the only agency that could shut down the company. The fire department issued a stop-work order, but that only applies to accepting more yard waste, not processing that it already has on-site.

The question remains, is MW Horticulture legally allowed to operate? It depends on who you ask and what legal documents you read. The company’s vice president says it’s in compliance and is battling DEP in court. DEP says they’re not allowed and directed MW Horticulture to cease operations.

What is clear is that it takes a lot of water and time to penetrate those huge mulch piles, which is not good when in a moderate drought.

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