They were everywhere. Flies filled the back porches. Flies swarmed the children. Flies bit the neighbors' arms and buzzed so loud that people across the street could hear it. For nearly six weeks, people living north of Plant City around Justin Lane have been inundated by black swarms of buzzing flies. The insects bred in mounds of chicken manure that had been dumped on vacant property nearby.
"It was like a Hitchcock movie," said Steve Miller, who lives at 4110 Justin Lane, across from the dumping grounds. "In the morning you could get up here and hear the flies buzzing across the street."
Nora Carr, who lives on Bruton Road about one mile away, said she had to keep her grandchildren inside.
"The stink was so bad, morning and night," she said. "It could not be healthy _ maggots and flies, and then getting on humans."
The flies were bad enough. But then Miller got mixed up with county government.
Miller said he first called the Environmental Protection Commission in mid-April to complain about the masses of flies and the 12 to 15 semitrailer truckloads of chicken manure _ he figures it totaled more than 200 truckloads _ dumped across the street from his house.
He was told the dumping was legal. He was told he could do nothing about it.
"They kept telling me it was okay," Miller said. "I went totally berserk down there."
Eventually, other agencies also got involved. After several inspections, the county Health Department stopped the dumping May 20, saying it was a public health hazard, according to environmental health director Jordan Lewis.
Sheriff's Sgt. J. D. Hill said his officers began investigating and still are pursuing a possible illegal-dumping charge.
"It's not illegal to dump anything as fertilizer," he said. But, "you're past fertilizing if you're oversaturated. This would be considered illegal dumping."
Lewis said the Health Department issued notices to Tampa Farm Service Inc., the chicken farm from which the manure originated, property manager J. A. Priest and property owner James Bonner, who lives in Broward County.
By Thursday, Lewis said, the manure had been spread with lime and plowed under.
Did it solve the problem? It depends on whom you talk to.
Miller said his truck filled with 200 flies within 10 minutes on Saturday, and only a brisk wind kept the flies away Monday.
He also is concerned that the manure will be allowed to stay there, posing a threat to the groundwater and wetlands on the property.
Lewis said his department is satisfied there's no threat to the public health.
"The problem is we have so many regulatory agencies trying to get a piece of the pie, and we're not all looking at the same thing," he said. "It's like the seven blind men trying to describe the elephant."