BROOKSVILLE — For more than a year, Hernando County mud bogging, country music, monster truck and reality television enthusiasts have been waiting for Peter Michael "Mike" Barbee to stage his first Mud on the Barbee event.
In recent days, Barbee began constructing the mud pits and stage on a 150-acre site on U.S. 98 just north of Brooksville, displaying pictures of the progress on a Facebook page.
"The party starts July 4," the page announces.
But on Tuesday, a day after a county staffer noticed the earthwork, the county issued Barbee a stop-work order.
County officials say Barbee never filled out an application for a conditional use permit, despite being told the permit would be required to host such an event. Other questions have been raised about the structure that Barbee calls a stage on Facebook.
Barbee told the Tampa Bay Times that the structure he identifies as a stage will eventually be a pole barn and will store hay. County officials said Barbee had been granted an exemption from county permitting for that because it was deemed to be a nonresidential agricultural structure.
The use of the structure is now under investigation, however, according to Chris Linsbeck, the county's zoning supervisor.
On April 7, the Southwest Florida Water Management District sent a letter to the property owner, Thomas Malouf, informing him that a permit wasn't necessary for the mug bog excavation. But the stop-work order halts all construction at the site, including the excavation, Linsbeck said.
That's because, based on the information given to Swiftmud, Barbee plans a mug bogging event on a 4-acre pond with three obstacle courses. That requires a conditional use permit from the county.
Barbee, president of Mud on the Barbee, said the stop-work order came as an unexpected blow.
"They came out here and put a red tag on the fence and stop everything you are doing," he said. "It's a little depressing today, sir."
For months, he said he and his partner have been working to get the property ready, investing a lot of time and money.
"This isn't some dirty little place," Barbee said. "This is a multimillion-dollar project."
He feels like the county pulled the rug out from underneath him.
At a County Commission meeting in February 2013, Barbee said commissioners granted him permission to host two events.
"We'd like to get some help instead of just roadblocks," he said.
From the start, Barbee had asked for the county to give him a break from some rules and regulations. But commissioners said there would be no shortcut. Barbee would have to go through the county's process and that meant making application.
"We were amenable to issue a permit for them, but that requires them to make an application, which they didn't do," Linsbeck said.
When such permits are issued, either by county staffers or by the Planning and Zoning Commission, they come with conditions to protect the public, including reviews by the sheriff, fire and health departments; requirements for parking; restrooms; traffic control; and a site plan, Linsbeck explained.
He said he will meet with county officials today to decide the county's course of action.
When Barbee spoke to commissioners of his plans in 2013, he talked about drawing 25,000 visitors to each month's mud bogging and music events. He predicted millions of dollars in revenue to local businesses.
He also promised to film the process of creating the mud bog venue, creating a reality show that would feature his own "Barbee dolls'' — his four daughters.