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Horse owners love the place; neighbors say it's a nuisance

KEYSTONE — It was Carla Card against the world — the world of horse owners in northwest Hillsborough County.

Card and a number of her neighbors have filed more than 90 complaints with the county's Environmental Protection Commission about the odor, noise of machines and dust created by Martin Equipment Services, a compost-making operation next door to them. But it was Card who spoke for most of them during a community meeting last month, providing rare counterpoint to the praise of the company by most of the speakers.

"Would anyone want to live this close to a manure trash pit?'' Card asked the crowd. Most seemed unsympathetic.

To the horse owners, Martin's business is a way to get rid of the manure-caked hay they clean out of their barns. Area resident Jane Whitehurst said that if they lose Martin's service, there will be "a lot of horse farms that don't know what they're going to do with their manure.''

It appears there is little danger of the EPC shutting down Martin Equipment Services, one of 12 private and county-run yard waste and recycling facilities in Hillsborough County. EPC inspectors say the company, which started business in 2013, is operating within air and noise pollution guidelines.

The agency had 11 different inspectors check out the complaints, Jerry Campbell, director of the EPC's air quality division, told the crowd. "They've been out over 100 occasions. We did not detect an objectionable odor.''

Campbell noted that operations such as Martin's are valuable because they help prevent illegal dumping and they produce products like top soil and potting soil.

"It's really a very beneficial and it's a sustainable practice.''

But not so beneficial to close neighbors. Card asked for a showing of hands of neighbors who have smelled the odor. About a dozen hands went up.

Card she said she can smell the foul odor in varying strength most of the time, depending on the work going on and the direction of the wind.

On a recent hot afternoon, this reporter could smell a strong, sour odor from the street in front of the facility on Tyler Road, but the odor was not apparent a half block away or on the west side of the facility.

Shane Vogt, lawyer for Cody Martin, said his client has no comment because he has been threatened with a lawsuit.

Indeed, Michael Michelin, who lives on the street behind Martin Equipment Services, said the neighbors have been talking to an attorney. To Michelin, the main problem isn't noise or dust.

"To us, it's the disgusting, toxic odors that emanate from it.''

They vary with atmospheric conditions, he said, but the smell is really bad when the sun comes out after a rain and he is downwind. "It's so bad that I can't work out in the yard.''

The smell changes, said Linda Martin, whose property abuts the business on the north. "Sometimes it will smell very strong, like a strong chemical smell; some days a strong manure smell; some days a strong antiseptic smell.''

Linda Martin is Cody Martin's aunt, and while they don't speak to each other because of a longtime family dispute, she said that has nothing to do with her complaints about his business.

"It's affecting everyone's quality of life who lives around it,'' she said.

Michelin worries about groundwater intrusion tainting his well, and he fears a drop in property value.

At the hearing, two people who said they live near the facility, but not next door, had no problem with it.

One neighbor praised the convenient location. Another admired Cody Martin's ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

An organic soil dealer said Martin's compost is consistently clean. A Martin employee praised his boss' positive management style. A neighbor said Martin saved her dog when her house burned down.

Michelin said it's apparent that Cody Martin supporters got word to show up in force.

"It turned into the Cody Martin show,'' he said.

Senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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