In a code violation case going back almost a decade, a Key Largo solid waste and recycling company faces up to more than $1 million in Monroe County-issued fines following a judge’s ruling late last month.
But the owner of the business, Brian Lindback, says he inherited the violations when he bought the company in 2008 — a year after the citations began — and he’s been working with the county on ways to come into compliance ever since.
“I have been trying for eight years to fix the the problem, and the county has been dragging its feet,” Lindback said Tuesday.
According to a Monroe County press release, violations continue to accrue against Magnolia 101, which operates Atlantic Trash and Transfer at 101 Magnolia St., off the ocean side of U.S. 1 at mile marker 100.2. Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia’s April 30 ruling in the county’s case against the company means Magnolia 101 is on the hook for every dime in fines -- which have an estimated range of between $800,000 to $1.2 million, Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger said Monday.
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“There will be a hearing to determine the amount of the fines,” Cammy Clark, the county’s public information officer, said in a statement.
“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,” says a statement released by the county Monday.
Lindback counters he’s done everything the county told him to do to come into compliance. He said he even specifically asked if he could continue conducting business as usual while he worked to fix the violations, and was told he could. In the meantime, Lindback estimates he’s spent at least $25,000 with a land-use consultant operating as a liaison between him and county staff.
“From the day I bought it, I said ‘tell me what to do to fix this and get it done.’ It was this way when I bought it,” Lindback said.
If Lindback shows he cannot pay the fines, the county says it has the option of foreclosing on the land.
County officials say Lindback illegally cleared his three 1-acre lots to expand his company’s trash transfer station and recycling business; the latter operation includes pulverizing concrete. Beginning in 2007, county inspectors say Lindback destroyed tropical hardwood hammock and native vegetation, and trenched an 8-foot-by-6-foot mass of coral in 2013 that was within the county’s right-of-way, according to court documents.
“Instead of working toward compliance, the company worsened the environmental damage,” the county’s statement reads.
But Lindback said the trees were cleared before he bought the business and since then, he’s planted more than an acre of trees.
“I did not clear the trees, but I have been trying to fix this mess from the day I got it,” he said. “I planted over an acre of trees. I’ve done it, and they just won’t stop, and I don’t understand it.”
He also denies digging the trench.
“I didn't do the trenching, own the machines or give permission to trench, and it was not on my property,” Lindback said. “I already went before a magistrate and proved that.”
The county says Lindback acknowledged to inspectors in February 2013 that his property was home to multiple code violations and he entered into agreements with Monroe to come into compliance. The agreements gave him until December of that year to correct all the violations without accruing more fines, court documents state.
According to the county, the agreements were recorded as liens against the property.
After a May 2013 site visit, county inspectors discovered the trench dug into the coral. A stop-work order was issued — and ignored, according to the county attorney’s office.
“The violations were not corrected by Dec. 17, 2013, and the properties still are not in compliance with the County Code,” the county’s statement reads.
That’s when the county took Linback and his companies to court. The trial began in February. Garcia issued his April 30 ruling after reading both parties’ closing arguments.
“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 in a prepared statement. “Foreclosure on a property is an extreme remedy that the County prefers to use only after exhausting all other avenues of pursuing compliance.”
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204