Hendry County moves to restrict future fish farms

LABELLE — Hendry County commissioners last week took a first step toward eliminating future fish farms in its rural residential farm zoning district around Montura Ranch Estates. Existing farms, such as one along County Road 833 that has prompted some complaints from neighbors, will be grandfathered in, however.

Commissioners heard on first reading an amendment to the Hendry County Code, Chapter 1-53. County Administrator Jennifer Davis explained to the board of commissioners: “This is the first reading for the amendment that specifically would eliminate commercial agriculture uses in Montura, specifically in the rural residential farm zoning district. To date, we’ve had support from the community, and as you may remember we received a request from Central County (Drainage District, or CCDD) to pursue something that would address the fish farm, and this was the answer. So there will be an adoption hearing on Nov. 12.”

Commissioner Darryl Harris asked, “What was the fish farm doing?”

Ms. Davis pointed out, “We have multiple fish farms. And there were some bad actors who were either pumping water into the drainage system or into the aquifer, which would impact folks’ wells on adjacent properties.”

Commissioner Michael Swindle said the companies often block roads due to truck traffic, and “when you’re beside residents, it’s not a good chemical mix; it’s bad.”

Mr. Harris asked how they got there in the first place, and Ms. Davis explained the county does not regulate fish farms. “They’re regulated by FDEP and the Florida Department of Ag.” Mr. Swindle added, “The zoning provides for that, and so that’s the whole purpose of this, to cut them out.”

Mr. Harris asked whether the existing ones can stay, and she answered, “That’s correct, they’ll be grandfathered in.”

Board Chairman Mitchell Wills asked whether CCDD was “on board with what we have.”

Ms. Davis said their officials had reviewed it but it also was sent to a “couple other contacts that are very involved. There apparently was a discussion at Montura’s landowner meeting this past Saturday as well.” She said they support the change, “and we haven’t heard anything to the contrary.”

Mr. Wills remarked, “I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a couple of members of the Central County board, and they’ve actually expressed a desire for them and Hendry County to come together and maybe do some joint stuff. I believe we’re finally beginning to break down some of these walls — you know, my sandbox and your sandbox — so it’s kind of a good thing that we’re starting to come together more.

“Even Glades County,” he went on. “We have been very blessed with that opportunity there, you know, with Mr. Ahern and that board. Now the City of LaBelle and the City of Clewiston as well. So I’m glad to see we’re moving forward with this idea of unity.”

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