Fort Meade sues Biosolids for $268661 over unpaid utility bill

The city isn’t finished feuding with Biosolids Distribution Services, the wastewater processing plant that caused a stink three years ago on the city’s north side.

FORT MEADE — The city isn’t finished feuding with Biosolids Distribution Services, the wastewater processing plant that caused a stink three years ago on the city’s north side.

The city is suing Biosolids for failing to pay $268,661 it owes for utility services.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Circuit Court in Bartow, states the charges reflect electric, water and wastewater charges dating to the spring and accruing through October.

The company initiated operations in Fort Meade in early 2013 after purchasing Environmental Ag Products, which had been conducting similar sludge treatment at 1491 N.W. 14th St.

Within months, neighbors began complaining about odors emanating from the plant. When city officials investigated, they discovered that Biosolids had expanded the process and decided the company no longer conformed with the city’s zoning regulations. Those enhancements were causing odors that led to the complaints.

The Wisconsin-based company extracts liquids from treated wastewater sludge and sells the remaining product for use in fertilizer and other soil additives.

Tom Anderson, president of the Wisconsin-based Biosolids, declined comment on the lawsuit Friday, saying he hadn’t seen it yet.

Here’s a timeline of events that have brought the city to this point:

September 2014: Lawyers for Biosolids file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa challenging the city’s assertion that the company’s operations violate Fort Meade’s land use regulations. 

October 2014: A federal judge rules that Biosolids didn’t have legal standing to file its lawsuit in U.S. District Court. 

October 2014: Fort Meade files a lawsuit against Biosolids in Circuit Court in Bartow seeking an injunction to halt the company’s operations until it complies with the city’s regulations. The city also discovered the company wasn’t paying for wastewater service, continuing an agreement the city had reached with Environmental Ag Products. The lawsuit sought to force Biosolids to pay for wastewater service. 

June 2015: The city and Biosolids reach a settlement that requires Biosolids to move its Fort Meade operations outside the city by December 2016 and establishes that the company will pay the city for wastewater service.

October 2015: Fort Meade discovers a change in the flow to its wastewater plant, with thick sludge that is taxing the facility’s operations. The sludge is traced to Biosolids, prompting the City Commission to adopt a new fee schedule for customers who send thick sludge through the city’s wastewater system. The new schedule, which applies to only Biosolids, more than triples Biosolids’ wastewater bills. 

June 2016: After Biosolids challenges the city’s price increase in Circuit Court, arguing the increase violated the June 2015 settlement agreement, Circuit Judge Keith Spoto rules in the city’s favor. 

October 2016: Fort Meade sends a certified letter to Biosolids demanding payment of $268,660 in utility billing, of which more than $250,000 is for wastewater fees. 

October 2016: In response to the city’s letter, Biosolids offers to give the city two wastewater presses in exchange for payment, according to City Manager Fred Hilliard. The city declines the offer. 

November 2016: Fort Meade files a lawsuit in Circuit Court seeking payment of $268,660 for unpaid utility bills. Hilliard said Biosolids still has equipment stored at the Fort Meade site, but it doesn’t appear that the company is conducting any operations there. Anderson declines comment on the company’s Fort Meade operations.

— Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at suzie.schottelkotte@theledger.com or 863-533-9070. Follow her on Twitter @southpolkscene.

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