PSL-based landscaping firm wants to close the loop by recycling yard waste into garden mulch

FORT PIERCE – The St. Lucie County Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously June 17 to approve a conditional use permit so a Port St. Lucie-based landscaping firm can begin recycling all of its yard waste into various types of garden mulch instead of hauling to the county landfill.

Sampson Tree Service has operated in St. Lucie for more than three decades and its owner Rich Sampson purchased the 18.38-acre property a couple of years ago with the idea of creating his own mulch-processing business to close the loop on his business. He told P&Z commissioners that he grew tired of paying the local dump to burn up the debris when it could have been repurposed. The conditional use permit he requested only applies to the southwestern five acres of the parcel at 21001 Orange Ave. rezoned for utility purposes years ago by a previous owner.

“It’s just another piece of my puzzle,” he said. “We were paying a lot of money to dump. You go in some of these places, and I was losing a gas tank on a truck because logs were popping up. If it rains too much, they’re closed. So that’s why I went into this.”

County Planner Bethany Grubbs described Mr. Sampson’s plans for that portion of his land, whose previous owner had requested a conditional-use permit in the early 2000s to build a yard-waste recycling utilizing and an air current incinerator. Instead of incineration, however, the latter plans on repurposing all of his yard waste.

“The operation is limited to recycling and processing of land clearing and yard trash and wholesale of recycled mulch, with no composting proposed,” she said. “The application estimates 10 truckloads of yard waste and debris will be delivered daily. The proposal entails four 100 by 145 stockpile pads and one 100 by 145 relocation pad. The corresponding phases consists of sorting, mulching and material dying.”

Ms. Grubbs went on to explain that the applicant’s planned debris recycling would entail a 60-day process including the dying of mulch into four different colors on the permeable pads. The company will be required to install a 20-foot-wide perimeter green-belt strip around the area, including an eight-foot-tall opaque vegetative buffer as part of 23 conditions of approval.

“Staff recommends the Planning & Zoning Board forward the petition with a recommendation of approval subject to the following conditions of approval outlined in the agenda packet,” she concluded. “Staff has ensured the conditional use does not have a negative effect on the environment, adjacent properties, public facilities, fire protection and is consistent with the Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan,”

After Ms. Grubbs finished her presentation, Commissioner William O’Dell questioned if the county really needed to saddle the established businessman with a $50,000 bond as one of the aforementioned 23 conditions of approval.

“It looks like under these conditions the only one that would be a little bit of a hardship is it’s requiring a bond,” he said. Is there a bond requirement for this?”

“There is, based off of the size of their property and the operations,” Ms. Grubbs responded. “A $50,000 bond will be paid to the county in case the site does have non-compliance issues.”

When Mr. O’Dell wondered whether that condition could be waived for the applicant, Assistant County Attorney Katherine Barbieri reminded him of the Land Development Regulations.

“It is specifically outlined as a requirement of the Code,” she said.

Both Commissioners Craig Mundt and Robert Lowe worried about potential groundwater contamination from the mulch dyeing process planned for the property.

“Do you know what type of dye this is?” the latter asked. “Maybe the owner should tell us a little bit about the dyes and can they get into the water.”

Ms. Grubbs affirmed that the dyes utilized in the process were “are all natural to the environment.”

“For the black, they’re using carbon, and they’re using iron oxide,” she explained. “They did provide the safety sheet for what happens if there’s contamination, what the protocols are and the agencies you have to notify.”

A representative of the applicant, Brad Currie with Engineering Design & Construction, showed P&Z commissioners a video of the dyeing process to affirm there was very little leakage of dye during the procedure.

“Some people would think the dye is running everywhere and the whole facility is wet, but that’s not the case,” he said. “The roto-chopper is computerized to where it puts minimal amount of dye into the mulch. Dye is expensive, and Mr. Sampson doesn’t want to waste a bunch of dye on the ground, so we don’t have a lot of dye that actually leaks out from the facility. The [mulch] material we’re doing in this facility is going to go on the ground somewhere; whether it be here or whether it be on the ground at someone’s house, it’s going to go on the ground.”

For her part, Board Member Valerie Slack wanted assurances that the St. Lucie County Fire District was satisfied with the usage proposed by the applicant on the land.

“Has the fire department reviewed this and ensured they could reach a fire at the center of the pad?” she asked.

“The Fire District did have their site inspection and they have certified off the petition through the Development Review Committee process,” Ms. Grubbs responded.

When the concerned commissioner wanted to know the water source for fighting a potential blaze, both the county planner and the engineer of record had words of encouragement for her.

“They have a pond, and there’s a connection line here with a box and a pump,” Ms. Grubbs said as she pointed to the site plan.

Mr. Currie provided additional details on the fire-repression system.

“At each pad there’s actually a fire department connection, that when you flip the pump, it pumps 1,200 gallons a minute at each pad,” he said. “The Fire District’s been out and reviewed it, and they’re in full support of the design of the pads and the fire protection.”

Mr. Sampson emphasized that he’d personally walked the property with Fire Marshal Paul Langel to ensure fire safety for his planned recycling facility.

“We also have a 500-gallon, four-wheel-drive truck out there that’s always full,” he explained. “That can go right to a spot and put any hotspots out, and we have a 2,000-gallon tank that can gravity feed that 500-gallons in five minutes. We’re set up for anything that might happen.”

In response to concerns expressed by some Board members about invasive species getting mixed in with the mulch, Mr. Sampson said the heat in the mulching process would destroy the seeds and that such debris was separated with the smaller branches to be mulched and sold to a specific Okeechobee fertilizer company.

“Actually with this type of mulch, we are using only logs,” he insisted. “All the branches, the [Brazilian] peppers, it all goes into our mixed piles. All we are using in our mulch is hardwood and native stuff.”

Commissioner Slack then expressed her approval of Mr. Sampson’s proposal.

“I’m really glad to see all of this recycling rather than burning,” she said. “It’s a service to our community as well as a good business angle.”

After further discussion the P&Z Commission unanimously forwarded a recommendation of approval to the St. Lucie County Commission.

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