BROOKSVILLE — The residents knew the septic trucks with their stinky cargo would eventually rumble into their rural neighborhood off Sunshine Grove Road.
Anthony Crescenzo, owner of a septic company called Johns by John, got a permit last year from the county Planning and Zoning Commission to spread lime-treated human waste on roughly half of a 12-acre site on Sweet Gum Road.
Now, a month after Crescenzo's trucks started rolling down the lime rock road, neighbors suspect he is dumping untreated waste on the property.
The stench is unbearable, and the material coming out of trucks varies in odor and color — a sign, residents say, that some of the waste is treated and some is not.
On Tuesday morning, a parade of residents begged the Hernando County Commission for help.
"Something has got to be done," Jim Combs, who lives on Sun Road, south of Crescenzo's property, told commissioners. "You wouldn't have it happen in your back yard, either."
The county Health Department, not county government, is responsible for ensuring that Crescenzo follows the law. Before Tuesday's commission meeting, Health Department officials told the Tampa Bay Times they are investigating the complaints.
After the public comment portion of the commission meeting, Chairman Wayne Dukes asked to meet with residents, Health Department environmental services manager Al Gray, and the department's administrator, Phil Spence.
"Nobody should have to live like that, so we'll make sure the rules are being followed," Dukes said.
For his part, Crescenzo told the Times later in the day that he is following the law and is the victim of harassment on the part of neighbors.
"I have nothing to hide," he said.
The permit allows Crescenzo to apply the treated waste, called septage, on the interior of the property. Required setbacks are meant to minimize negative impact on neighbors.
The annual limit is 276,000 gallons, with no more than 20,000 gallons applied per day. Crescenzo said he is treating the waste at his new lime stabilization facility in Pasco County and trucking it to Hernando.
One Sweet Gum resident gave Gray a videotape of Johns by John employees picking up larger material after emptying their trucks. That, residents say, suggests some of the material is untreated. Gray called the footage suspicious but not conclusive.
He said he visited the property last week a few hours after one of Crescenzo's trucks left. He did not find evidence of untreated waste, nor was there excessive pooling to indicate drivers were applying too much.
Crescenzo is required by law to keep a record of how much each truck applies.
Gray has asked for those records three times, but Crescenzo had not submitted them, he said.
He has also asked Pasco officials for records from the treatment plant.
"I want to make sure he's stabilizing the same amount of septage that he's spreading," Gray said.
Crescenzo said he has tried in recent days to fax records to Gray and now plans to hand deliver them. He said he has offered to use pH test strips to show neighbors that the waste coming from the truck is treated.
The trucks that spread the waste are the same trucks that pump septic tanks, he said, so the material that residents see workers picking up is debris that had settled in the trucks.
Crescenzo said he is on the receiving end of anger that should be directed to the county, which approved the permit.
"Had I known it was going to be this big of a hassle, would I have bought a different piece of property? Sure I would have," he said.
Even if Crescenzo is following the rules, officials made a mistake by granting the permit, and now neighbors are paying for it, said Sweet Gum resident Cassie Stump.
"This particular site is way too close to homes," she said.
Similar sites are typically on larger pastures, away from homes, Gray said.
"It got approved by county," he said, "and I've said all along there are odors from septage spreading sites."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.