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MW Horticulture scores victory in ongoing legal battle

Posted at 9:51 PM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-03 15:19:48-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla — MW Horticulture is celebrating a win in its lengthy legal battle with Lee County and the State Department of Environmental Protection.

This composting company's fight dates back to Hurricane Irma when they were contracted out by Lee county to take debris.

Denise Houghtaling is the Vice President of MW Horticulture.

"Before Hurricane Irma came, we never had a violation with anybody for anything ever," says Houghtaling.

But she says once they took the debris in, they were stopped from grinding up the material.

"We could have simply ground the material, and it would have been gone," Houghtaling says.

The company also got in trouble for the fires that broke out after the piles of debris sat in the heat for too long.

But the owner says every time they tried to move that material, they were accused of violating DEP rules by driving over the debris or near it.

"Well wait a second, I'm near a hill because I'm loading a truck, I'm loading a machine so I can get the material off site," Houghtaling says.

As a result, the State DEP filed two cases against the company.

One was an injunction to stop them from talking in new material.

The other was to reject their application for a new permit with the department.

In the end, both judges agreed the company did the county, and area, an enormous favor by taking on the debris.

They both also found that the company wasn't really given a fair shot to dispose of it properly.

But in the end, while the injunction was shot down, it was recommended that MW's DEP permit application be denied.

"We believe that we're free to reapply, and it should be a simple reapplication, or we have the opportunity to appeal," Houghtaling says.

The owners also adds that they will use the court findings, in this case, to help defend themselves against the county who they say us accusing them of still having Irma debris on their sites.

"How are they now going to get an injunction against our company to stop taking in debris when the judge in another case has already ruled that the debris is completely gone," Houghtaling says.

FOX 4 contacted the State Department of Environmental Protection for a comment and haven't heard anything back.

We also contacted the county and they released the following statement:

"As we were not parties to this litigation, it would be improper for us to comment as to the result. We would however like to point out with regard to the issue of adequate capacity, the county does not maintain yard waste processing and disposal sites of the magnitude necessary to respond to a natural disaster such as hurricane Irma. Rather and pursuant to our disaster plans we maintain contracts with yard waste collection entities and disposal entities. In this instance the defendants site was utilized by a collection contractor for the County. For their yard waste disposal work MW horticulture was compensated nearly one half of a $1 million dollars.”