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'Don't Poop on Putnam': Fight over fertilizer in the form of treated human waste

A property owner wants permission to spread biosolids on his land.

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. — Scenes of old Florida are around nearly every corner near Crescent City.

"We love it," Dick Morrison smiled. He built his house so he can see a lake with lily pads on it. It's a lake he believes could be tainted if a neighbor carries out with his plans.

Morrison's property is just across the railroad tracks from 500 acres that Larry Downes owns. 

Downes wants state and county permission to spread fertilizer in the form of human waste on 47 acres of that land.

Downes has the American BioClean operation in nearby Volusia County, a wastewater treatment plant treating septic, sludge, and grease, according to its website. 

"They have had no DEP complaints down there," Mike Holloway said. He is the Consulting Engineer for Downes' project. 

Downes wants the okay to spread a truckload-a-day of human waste fertilizer onto land in Putnam County.

In Putnam County, the application of biosolids is allowed on agricultural land. 

"You’re not allowed to dump that in a lot of areas in Florida," Janet Sornberger is with the grass roots opposition group called 'Don’t Poop On Putnam'.  

“I care because I live across the street and I want my children to have a nice inheritance," Sornberger told First Coast News. "But you should care because it’s going to affect your water."

Many people who oppose the project are concerned about what it could do to nearby waterways like a creek next to the property, to bigger lakes such as Crescent Lake, and even the St. Johns River on the western edge of the county.

Ecologist for the project, Jody Sist, told county officials, "The proposed application is not within 200 feet of any surface water of the state."

Downes' team of attorneys and scientists say plans are in place so waterways will not be impacted. One of those plans includes a two-foot-tall berm around the land to prevent runoff. 

"There’s just no way any of it will get into the wetland or any surface water transport," Holloway said.

The Putnam County Zoning Board of Adjustments denied the request to apply biosolids on this land, and now Downes is appealing that decision in circuit court.

A property appraiser told county leaders that based on his research, property values will see no negative effects with this project. 

However, Morrison disagrees with that. 

"That’s crazy. Everybody knows it will," Morrison said.