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South Lee mulch and agricultural recycling facility bought by larger Florida green waste recycler

Mike Braun
Veransa Group, Inc. announced Wednesday that it had completed the purchase of MW Horticulture's South Lee County green and wood waste recycling facility for an undisclosed amount.

A south Lee County agricultural recycling facility that was the scene of a stubborn composting material fire in April, has been purchased by a mid-state industrial-scale recycler of green and wood waste.

Veransa Group, Inc. announced Wednesday that it had completed the purchase of MW Horticulture's South Lee County green and wood waste recycling facility with an option to acquire MW Horticulture’s LaBelle facility. The purchase price was not disclosed.

“We are excited to integrate MW into the Veransa Group," said Marc Owensby, Veransa's CEO. "It allows us to expand further into the rapidly growing South Florida market."

Previous owner-operators Denise Spaniak Houghtaling and Mark Houghtaling will remain as part of the new ownership. Denise Spaniak Houghtaling will be senior director, Business Development, Veransa South Florida, and Mark Houghtaling will be site manager for the Labelle site.

"We are very pleased," Denise Spaniak Houghtaling said. "It's a win-win for us, Veransa and the entire community. We are excited to be joining Veransa."

Veransa, a zero-waste leader in transforming green & wood waste into beneficial re-use products on an industrial scale through vertical integration of waste collection/recycling centers with organic products manufacturing facilities.

The company has sites in Tampa, Sarasota, Clearwater and Seffner.

The deal, which formally closed Wednesday, includes MW’s green and wood waste collections and recycling yards in Fort Myers.

A company official said the transaction was a private financial matter and the amount was confidential.

As part of the change in ownership all "legacy" materials at the south Lee County site will be removed, the company said.

MW officials said that the removal is expected to take a couple of weeks to be put into place.

"It's an aggressive plan but one that has been well planned out and will be exciting to see in action," Denise Houghtaling said.

Information from Veransa said the company would be enacting new safety procedures to lessen the risk of fire, including limiting the amount of material that can be on the sites. 

Braun, Michael
An April fire burned for days at MW Horticultural Recycling in south Lee County. The facility wasd purchased Wednesday by Veransa Recycling Inc., a Tampa-area company.

Fires in April at the facility burned for days, producing an acrid, thick smoke. Firefighters from San Carlos Park Fire District were on site for an extended period.

The state fire marshal initiated an investigation that was later dropped, MW company officials confirmed.

The April 3 fire burned in a section of hardwood logs on the south end of the 11-acre MW yard.

An April 10 fire smoldered and burned for 10-days and was one of the longest fires at the horticultural recycling operation since the Houghtalings took over operations in 2013.

San Carlos Park fire spent hours on site and poured hundreds of thousands of gallons of water on the stubborn fire in piles of compost, mulch and other materials.

Houghtaling said during the early days of the fire that she suspected arson. She conceded that fires at facilities such as MW are not unusual given the high temperatures sometimes found in the composting piles of agricultural waste such as grass clippings, leaves, tree parts, and other debris brought into the facility.

As part of the Veransa purchase conditions, the new owners will send many of MW’s assets to company repair facilities to complete necessary repairs and then return those assets to aid in clean-up of the south Lee site.

"We have hired a compost facility fire mitigation expert to help minimize our risk of fires and enhance our ability to manage any fires that occur," Roxane Teymourtash, a Veransa spokeswoman, said in an email.

"We have procured fire mitigation equipment, including hoses, pumps and sprinklers to help mitigate fires. We are setting aside roughly 20,000 cubic yards of dirt for fire suppression in the event that we do experience fires," Teymourtash added. "Veransa will also deliver a water truck to the (site) to help with fire mitigation. Upon completion of the first few phases of the clean-up project, the most significant fire risks will be behind us."

There will also be high-tech probes used to help thwart fires, she said.

Teymourtash added that Veransa and MW officials will visit the San Carlos fire department to enlist their help as they work through the highest fire risk portions of clean-up.

Additionally, Veransa officials said until the company implement the program of clearing the site, Veransa’s South Yard will have limited ability to take in debris from Ian.

"We are working to accelerate the clearing of the site so that we can be there for our neighbors as recovery from Ian proceeds," Teymourtash said in an emailed response.  

Mike Braun
A worker at MW Horticulture Recycling unloads materials at the facility on Thomas Road in South Lee County. MW's south Lee County recycling yard was purchased Wednesday by Veransa, a Tampa-area based recycling business.

Further changes at MW to be made by Veransa include modernization and strict safety and operational procedures.

The site will fall under a new South Florida division of the Veransa Group, led by the general manager of Veransa South Florida.

“By acquiring MW, Veransa will increase its organic soil-products portfolio to incorporate more specialized blends, including several agricultural and nursery mixes, which we can produce in bulk," Veransa's chief operation officer Kevin Dunlap said. "Veransa is already the largest recycler of yard and wood waste in Central and Southwest Florida with five facilities in Southwest Florida. This acquisition will only increase our share of green and wood waste intake, while maintaining our standing as the largest manufacturer of superior quality organic compost, mulches and soils in the area."

Denise Houghtaling said there would be special sales made in the coming days on some of the composting, topsoil and mulch offered at the south Lee County MW facility.

“It’s great to use for raising properties that are low-lying," she said.

Other facilities owned by MW including a site in North Fort Myers are not part of the acquisition and will continue to be operated by the Houghtalings as MW Horticulture Recycling of North Fort Myers, Inc.

"We will continue to cleanup the north yard," Denise Houghtaling said, adding: "We will continue our $5 million lawsuit against the county."

That suit stemmed from the company's collection of debris produced during Hurricane Irma inn 2017.

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