Land O’ Lakes Recycling is in hot water with a state regulatory agency for failing to meet an Oct. 7 deadline to build a retention pond or shut down its business.
Staff members of the Southwest Florida Water Management District referred the matter to the agency’s Office of General Counsel on Oct. 18 “because corrective actions have not been taken at this site,” according to an email from the agency, known as Swiftmud.
Also, staff members observed on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10 that the business was still operating despite locked gates and a sign displaying a message that Land O’ Lakes Recycling is closed.
The company has recycled paper, plastic, metal and cardboard from its site at 5710 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., for decades.
Owner Greg Conaty said he plans to move his business to Brooksville, and he plans to continue providing paper-recycling services to existing customers.
He said he hasn’t decided what will happen with the Land O’ Lakes property.
“We’re looking at our options,” he said, in a phone interview with The Laker/Lutz News shortly after the sign was posted, but prior to Swiftmud’s latest action.
His sign puts the blame for the recycling center’s situation on business neighbors at Lakes Auto.
But, John and Peter Inhofer, the father and son owners of Lakes Auto, say Conaty is responsible for years of violating county codes and state environmental regulations.
The Inhofers contend that county and state regulators have failed repeatedly over the years to enforce the laws.
Recycling materials have drifted frequently from the recycling business onto Lake Autos’ property, the Inhofers said.
A 10-foot steel fence separates the properties. A two-story conveyor system that separates recyclable products stands next to the fence.
“We had a garbage dump. There would be plastic and paper flying everywhere. All the garbage dumped into the pond right behind us,” said Peter Inhofer, who lives in a house behind Lakes Auto. “It devalues my property — so basically we forced them to do the right thing.”
It has never been personal, said Peter Inhofer.
“I have nothing against the neighbors,” he said. “I don’t even know them. I maybe met them twice.”
His father, John Inhofer, said it’s a matter of fairness. “If they (codes) are uniformly applied, there is no problem,” he said.
In the past five years, Pasco County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Swiftmud have found, on different occasions, that the recycling company was not complying with code and environmental regulations.
After the county and agencies determined the business to be in compliance, their files were closed.
For instance, Pasco County sued in 2012 over code violations and failure to obtain a business license. Conaty agreed to seek a new conditional permit to supplant one issued in 1994.
A year later the state environmental agency found environmental violations including discharging stormwater directly into a wetland, excessive litter, and storing waste within 50 feet of a wetland. Officials from that agency later said the issues were resolved and the case was closed.
More than a year ago Conaty applied for an exemption from a stormwater permit, which Swiftmud granted.
The Inhofers challenged that decision.
A judge sided with them, and Swiftmud issued the permit requiring Conaty to build a retention pond.
In its email, Swiftmud outlined the timeline of its interaction with Conaty since issuing the permit.
The recycling center received the permit in May 2015 authorizing the construction of the retention pond on the approximately 3-acre site. Construction was to begin in June and be completed by Dec. 18, 2015.
In November 2015, Conaty met with Swiftmud staff members on-site and told them he had been unable to receive a permit from Pasco County to operate his business. He also said he had purchased property in Brooksville and planned to relocate Land O’ Lakes Recycling.
Telephone calls by the The Laker/Lutz News, to obtain additional information from county officials, were not returned.
In February, Swiftmud sent a letter notifying Conaty he was in violation of his permit, and had until March 25 to comply. Then, in June, Swiftmud received an email from Conaty’s attorney stating the business would close by the end of August 2016.
In September, Conaty received his last deadline of Oct. 7.
Conaty claims that his business has been unfairly targeted.
He described Land O’ Lakes Recycling as an environmentally friendly company that recycles paper, aluminum and scrap metal. And, for more than two decades, Conaty said he and his sister and business partner, Cindy Glenn, never had a problem.
In the past four years, Conaty said they have tried to meet an expanding list of regulations that seemed unfair and arbitrary.
He claims the increasing regulation stemmed from complaints by the Inhofers.
Now, according to Conaty, they are moving Land O’ Lakes Recycling operations to Brooksville, just as the company emerges from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
But, Conaty said, “Pasco County has been absolutely horrible. They give you no help. They give you no answers.”
On the issue of being frustrated by government bureaucracy, the Inhofers and Conaty are on common ground.
Peter Inhofer said he and his father have repeatedly found local and state offices unresponsive to their complaints.
Land O’ Lakes Recycling continues operations, despite the lack of a permit and the retention pond, Peter Inhofer said, and the matter remains tangled in bureaucracy.
“Nobody is taking care of the problem,” he said.
Pubished October 26, 2016