BROOKSVILLE — The Southwest Florida Water Management District has issued a written complaint to the operators of the Hernando County Fairgrounds for failing to obtain a permit before excavating and grading 3 acres used for a recent mud bogging competition.
Swiftmud engineer John Powanda discovered the excavation work on 1.5 acres near the back of the fairgrounds Feb. 24 and informed Richard Klimas, promoter of last weekend's Truck Fest, that work on the mud bog needed to stop until an environmental resource permit was issued, according to Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix.
Felix said regulators returned to the site March 1 and found that the bog had doubled in size and included an area close to wetlands. In addition, a drainage ditch had been filled in without permission and the area lacked a sufficient number of absorbent barriers.
The letter sent to the Hernando County Fair Association warned that the organization could face legal action if it doesn't bring the property back in compliance with Swiftmud standards.
Fair association president Sandra Nicholson said Thursday she had not seen the letter and was unaware that any unauthorized work had occurred.
"I never talked to anyone from Swiftmud," Nicholson said. "They were there at least three times, and as far as I know they seemed happy with everything we were doing."
Klimas, a groundskeeper at the fairgrounds, called the complaint "greatly exaggerated" and said Swiftmud officials never told him that he needed a permit before doing the work.
"We discussed it, and they told us that we would eventually need a permit if we wanted to keep the bog," he said.
Klimas said he and his staff put up silt barriers around the mud bog to prevent the runoff of any contaminants, and installed a 12-inch plastic pipe to maintain the drainage ditch.
"We checked every truck that entered closely for gas and oil leaks," he said. "We got the okay from the fire department that we were all good as far as safety is concerned."
Klimas also said that the site is being restored to its original condition so that it can be ready for the county fair, April 6 to 14.
That may fly in the face of Swiftmud, which has ordered all work on the site to cease until the agency is contacted.
"Any activities conducted following the receipt of this letter but prior to the resolution of any permit requirements may result in increased penalties," the Swiftmud letter said.
The fair association has run into permitting problems before. In 2009, the organization was forced to pay additional fees to the city for not obtaining permits to complete a rodeo arena and other construction projects.
The association has until March 20 to contact Swiftmud to get the matter resolved.
Nicholson said she intends to do just that.
"We'll get it done," she said. "We have a fair coming up, and I want to make sure there aren't any problems cropping up."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.