Heap of trouble: County, state closing East Naples nursery for compost piles - PHOTOS

Flamingo Bend Nursery owner Mark Kalmanek is facing fines and possible permanent closure of his business because of a legal dispute with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Collier County Code Enforcement over his handling of mulch and debris at 11825 Riggs Road and Tamiami Trail East. Assistant Collier County Attorney Steven Williams said Kalmanek faces a law suit alleging a lack of proper permitting for the entire 16 years of his business and illegal dumping. David Albers/Staff

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Flamingo Bend Nursery owner Mark Kalmanek is facing fines and possible permanent closure of his business because of a legal dispute with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Collier County Code Enforcement over his handling of mulch and debris at 11825 Riggs Road and Tamiami Trail East. Assistant Collier County Attorney Steven Williams said Kalmanek faces a law suit alleging a lack of proper permitting for the entire 16 years of his business and illegal dumping. David Albers/Staff

When the compost piles at an East Naples nursery, Flamingo Bend Nursery, began to grow to unprecedented heights, state and county government agencies demanded he remove the 15-foot piles.

NAPLES _ Mark Kalmanek thought he was going green. Now, he’s going out of business.

When the compost piles at his East Naples nursery, Flamingo Bend Nursery, began to grow to unprecedented heights, state and county government agencies demanded he remove the 15-foot piles.

When Kalmanek failed to meet his 30-day deadline set by Collier County Code Enforcement, county commissioners last week authorized their attorney to take the nursery owner to court.

Assistant County Attorney Steven Williams said the issue is a lack of proper permitting for Kalmanek during the entire 16 years he’s been in business at 11825 Riggs Road. Also at issue, county officials said, is illegal dumping there and on a separate piece of land.

The 48-year-old father of six and Naples-area resident for more than 40 years contends he registered his business with the South Florida Water Management District and got a license to operate through the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations in Tallahassee years ago.

Because the state has approved his business, he contends, Collier County government must as well.

Kalmanek, who studied horticulture at Michigan State University, said he just wanted to expand his palm tree nursery into an organic farm.

“I farmed the new parcel once and it didn’t turn out really well, the soil is so sandy,” Kalmanek said. “Now I’m trying to open up organic farms, without any chemicals or petroleum-based fertilizer, but the county calls it litter.”

After the 15-foot pile of “litter,” or compost, composed of horse manure and other discarded vegetation, caught fire in January, the complaints began.

First an anonymous call was placed to Collier County Commission offices. It was forwarded to Christina Perez of Collier County Code Enforcement.

Then a county stop-work order was issued Feb. 3, and five days later, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) received an anonymous complaint.

The complaints began the series of events that led to Kalmanek shutting the doors and locking the gates to his life-long passion.

Responding to the complaint, DEP officials checked out the nursery and determined it was violating state rules.

Jon Iglehart, director of the DEP’s south district office, said the site is registered with the department because it receives yard trash — a solid waste. The registration also allows the business to store yard trash for eventual recycling.

Iglehart further explained that Kalmanek’s nursery is supposed to operate as a processing operation, not for composting.

“A yard trash processing facility has six months to size-reduce incoming yard trash. After (that), they have an additional 18 months to recycle the material. The (nursery) was not achieving these processing times,” Iglehart said.

“A yard trash processing facility has six months to size-reduce incoming yard trash. After (that), they have an additional 18 months to recycle the material. The (nursery) was not achieving these processing times,” said Jon Iglehart, director of the DEP’s south district office.

“I just don’t understand it. With the economy so bad, I don’t see why they want to beat up the businesses that are just barely surviving,” Mark Kalmanek said. “They don’t seem to want to work things out – talk to them, try to work it out, do one thing, do another.”

The concern, according to Iglehart, is that such a large amount of yard waste can catch fire.

“As processed yard trash decomposes, high temperatures are created, which help create the fire danger,” he said.

Meanwhile, county staff was conducting its own investigation.

According to Perez, Kalmanek never followed through with the permitting process for creating an organic farm, in addition to not getting a permit for his business through county government.

The county’s stop-work order was amended March 16 to allow for more time to clean up the debris, which by then also included heaping stacks of discarded wood.

Kalmanek said his business had to close for two months during his busiest and most profitable time.

“They closed me,” Kalmanek said. “They closed me down.”

While the stop-work order was in place, the county staff issued him a notice of violation for accepting vegetative debris — or compost or litter or yard waste, depending on whom is asked — on an expanded site intended for Kalmanek’s organic farm.

By April, Kalmanek began prioritizing his violations.

On April 27, he entered into a consent agreement with DEP to resolve the case, which includes a $1,600 payment; $1,100 in civil penalties and $500 for department costs. He was given 180 days to come into compliance.

But it didn’t end there.

On June 7, Perez’s county office received another complaint that dumping was occurring at the nursery, and after an inspection, it was determined to be fresh vegetation. The county staff considered that a violation of the stop-work order and the prior notice that he was in violation of county rules.

“Eventually if people don’t comply with what’s being asked, it goes to a hearing,” Perez said.

It’s not the pending lawsuit or the fines and fees that has Kalmanek upset.

It’s the feeling of being targeted in a failing economy.

“I just don’t understand it. With the economy so bad, I don’t see why they want to beat up the businesses that are just barely surviving,” he said.

“They don’t seem to want to work things out – talk to them, try to work it out, do one thing, do another,” Kalmanek continued. “They said clean up and as long as I’m working to clean it up it’s OK ... next thing I know I’ve got to go to court.”

Kalmanek also said that the time-frame provided to clean up the mess wasn’t sufficient.

As it stands now, his first of four $400 payments is due to the state July 26 for his violations with DEP. For those with county government, it will go to hearing where further penalties may result.

For Kalmanek, he’s just hoping to reopen his organic farm.

“I’m hopeful that we can do something again,’’ he said. “Never know what will happen tomorrow, lawsuit today — maybe tomorrow, not one.”

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