MW Horticulture owes thousands in unpaid invoices for fires over the years, being sued by DEP

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
MW Horticulture fire. (Credit: WINK News)

A lawsuit has been filed by the State Department of Environmental Protection against MW Horticulture. That lawsuit was filed last year but the case remains open.

And, the facility is getting fined for all of the recent fires. But, the co-owner of MW Horticulture said she won’t be paying the fines.

As for the lawsuit, she’s getting a lawyer that will doa all the talking in court.

The latest fire has so many WINK News viewers asking “how is MW Horticulture still in business when it has a history of trouble?” But the answer to that question is a little murky.

It’s day six of a fire at MW Horticulture and that means more smoke, more flames and more anger from those who live nearby. Eve Greene was very upset about this most recent fire. “Angry. It p***** me off.”

San Carlos Park’s fire chief David Cambareri figured that this could happen. His firefighters spent a lot of time at the site along Thomas Road, near Old US-41. There have been 22 calls in 2022 so far.

“Forward ahead, Sunday the 10thā€¦ Catastrophic fire happens,” said Cambareri. “We had almost 90% involvement of 14 acres of mulch. And we had inadequate access so all the firefighting had to happen from external positions around that mulch facility.”

In other words, firefighters could not even get to the places where the fire burned. You can see that in video from the WINK News drone. The fire chief said the owners of MW Horticulture are guilty of multiple code violations. “It’s important that we put them into compliance,” Chief Cambareri said.

But, that isn’t going to happen while the fire continues burning. So, the Florida DEP decide to do something. The state agency filed a lawsuit in April 2021 and asked a judge to order MW Horticulture to “cease operations.”

Denise Houghtaling is one of the owners and said that MW Horticulture is in compliance and is currently battling the DEP in court. “DEP and us have been in disagreements as well and we keep winning against them,” Houghtaling said.Ā “We’re not done with the DEP they have another lawsuit and my attorneys saying that we’re going to prevail on that one as well.”

San Carlos Park Fire has a history with MW Horticulture that dates back to 2017. In December of that year, the fire chief put the owners on notice that they would be “fiscally responsible for any costs associated with fire suppression activities, water usage or damage to any adjacent properties due to a fire generated at your facility while non-compliant.”

Since 2017, he’s sent eight different invoices to the company, totaling $36,271. And now the fire chief said the owners have not paid a single dime. And, a ninth invoice is on its way for the massive response this week’s fire incurred.

“These charges are for the fire apparatus runtime and firefighter personnel time. That’s what these charges are,” said Cambareri.

As for the millions and millions of gallons of water poured to control this fire, Chief Cambareri said that Lee County will bill MW Horticulture for that.

So will the company come around and pay up? We asked the chief. His response? “I hope they do. I mean that’s the best business model we could all ask for otherwise the land owner is going to be stuck dealing with that and we as a fire district are going to be stuck with mitigating it,” Cambareri said.

Houghtaling and her husband lease the land. So, if the state shuts down MW Horticulture, that will create a whole new set of problems. The fire chief says the lands’ owner would be stuck with the court battle and the fines. He told WINK News he’d rather stay in business and follow the rules.

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