As a last resort to resolve one of Monroe County’s most egregious cases involving environmental violations in recent history, the County sued Magnolia 101 – a company that operates as a waste separation facility in Key Largo – and its owner, Brian Lindback. On April 30, Circuit Court Judge Luis M. Garcia ordered final judgment in favor of Monroe County.
This case began in 2007, when the County was first alerted to the destruction of tropical hardwood hammock on the company’s three one-acre lots on Magnolia Street. To expand its trash transfer station and recycling business, which includes pulverizing concrete, the company illegally cleared native vegetation from two of its lots, and illegally cleared part of a third lot on a portion that is classified as a conservation easement.
For years, County staff worked with the company to stop and repair the natural habitat destruction, and to try to get them to stop conducting commercial operations on the two lots that are not zoned for such commercial activity.
On Feb. 11, 2013, Lindback agreed that the violations existed and entered into stipulation agreements with the County. The agreements gave him until Dec. 17, 2013 to correct all of the violations without accruing more fines. The agreements also stated that if the violations were not fixed by this date, the County would fine the company for that time period, and that the agreements would be recorded as liens against the property.
Instead of working toward compliance, the company worsened the environmental damage. On a May 8, 2013 site visit, County staff discovered a large patch of trenching in which an 8-foot by 6-foot mass of coral had been extracted from ground that was within the County right-of-way. Two days later, the County issued a stop-work order for the illegal trenching and resource extraction. It was ignored.
The violations were not corrected by Dec. 17, 2013, and the properties still are not in compliance with the County Code. Because the business had violated the stipulated agreements, the County then filed suit. A trial was held before Judge Garcia on February 2. At the close of the trial, the Court took the matter under advisement and instructed the parties to file written closing arguments. Last week, the Court announced its decision when it rendered the Final Judgment.
The Final Judgment entitles Monroe County to money damages for the fines that accrued – and will continue to accrue – until the violations are corrected. There will be a hearing to determine the amount of the fines. Those fines are estimated to be in the range of $800,000 to $1.2 million.
The judgment also prohibits development or use of the property until all violations are fixed.
If the company does not have the assets to pay for the money damages, Monroe County may foreclose on the land.
“The County is very pleased with the final judgment that will end Magnolia 101’s brazen disregard for the rules that protect native habitat,” Assistant County Attorney Peter Morris said. “Foreclosure on a property is an extreme remedy that the County prefers to use only after exhausting all other avenues of pursuing compliance.”