tampabay.com

Sinkhole company is still in violation

It hasn't relocated to properly zoned land, or stopped making grout, as instructed.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published March 6, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - Hunt Road, narrow and unpaved, threaded through a dense citrus grove when William "W.R." Absher moved there 11 years ago.

Most of the orange trees have since given way to development, a common story in this fast-growing region. Absher witnessed the biggest clearing yet when Earth Tech decided to move to Hunt Road in 1996.

Earth Tech is a company that specializes in filling sinkholes and stabilizing the ground for building.

They were good neighbors at first, Absher said.

Then, things changed.

About two years ago, trucks started hauling sand and cement in and out to manufacture grout. Clouds of dust choked their wake. Tailgates slammed and industrial noises startled neighbors out of their beds at 5 a.m.

"It's like a bomb going off," Absher said. "Sometimes, when the wind picks up, it's a dustbowl out here."

What started as a quiet, clean business suddenly got noisy and dirty.

This would have been fine had Earth Tech been in an area zoned for industrial use.

But it isn't. The company sits in a commercial zone. Officials say the area cannot be legally rezoned to suit Earth Tech's purposes.

Two years ago, the county ordered Earth Tech to move to properly zoned land, or cease making grout.

For two years, the company did neither.

It did pay the county's $500 fine.

In February 2006, Earth Tech bought a properly zoned site on five acres in Hudson, but it has yet to move there.

On Thursday, the company received its second court citation and another $500 fine.

"They've been in the process for months now of trying to relocate this plant," Dean Birch, Earth Tech's lawyer, said Friday. "We fully expect the plant will be moved in the next couple months."

* * *

Grout is the lifeblood of a company like Earth Tech.

The substance's main ingredients are cement and sand, which sit in large mounds in the open on Earth Tech's grounds.

It is also the cement and sand, combined with a fleet of at least 11 mixer trucks, that cough up the fog and noise that infuriate Earth Tech's neighbors.

"I've been here about 22 years now," said Arthur "Skip" Schaer, another neighbor. "Until the plant came, there were no complaints from anybody."

Founded in 1991, Earth Tech is headed by Ron Broadrick and his father, Lewis Broadrick.

They moved their operation from Lutz to Land O'Lakes in 1996.

Earth Tech used to buy grout from businesses like Keys Concrete. But it soon became cheaper for Earth Tech to cut out the middleman.

In 2004, as Pasco's sinkhole-related insurance crisis was coming into full bloom, Earth Tech was poised to take advantage of the economic opportunity presented by homeowners cashing in on insurance payouts to fix their homes.

Meanwhile, Ron Broadrick, the company president, demonstrated a commitment to his community. He was president of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, whose chief executive, Stephen Koch, spoke well of Broadrick. Broadrick also sat on the board of the For Kids' Sake Foundation in Orlando.

On Friday, at his Land O'Lakes office, Broadrick was asked for an interview. Later, Birch called to speak for the company.

Birch said Broadrick ran into problems with permitting that delayed the move, but they have since been resolved. He said there were snags in Earth Tech's attempts to buy the land.

"It's not been for lack of effort on their part," Birch said.

Birch attributed the most recent citation to "probably a new county employee" who may not have known about the company's efforts to move.

Earth Tech ran into difficulty last April with another government agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection, which fined the company $9,500 because it failed to promptly file a permit notification for air quality controls.

* * *

Last week, the mixers were still churning and the trucks still chugging at Earth Tech. Nearby, Southern Crafted Homes was gearing up to start selling homes in a 94-acre subdivision called Devonwood.

David Bevin, a Hunt Road resident who brought the first round of complaints against Earth Tech in 2004, grew frustrated.

"Nothing has happened," Bevin said. "I've been on their case at least three years now. The county told me they are supposed to go over to Hudson, but it's no good."

On Thursday, Patrick J. Phillips, who heads Pasco's code enforcement department, explained that part of the reason for Earth Tech's delay stems from Florida statutes, which allow for a "reasonable" amount of time to fix the problem.

But the two-year lag is too much, he said.

"The amount of time that's gone by is long enough," he said.

Birch said he was not sure why Pasco issued the second citation, but now underlines the company's intention to abide by the county's rules.

"It's something that the company has been working on for months and months," he said. "It's something that Earth Tech wants to do."

Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

 

Earth Tech

The sinkhole and soil stabilization company faces citations from Pasco County that require them to move their grout-manufacturing operations and pay a $500 fine.

- Founded: 1991

- Address: 2620 Hunt Road, northwest of State Road 54 and U.S. 41

- Directors: Ron and Lewis Broadrick, both of Lutz

- Web site: www.floridasinkhole.com