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Lake Wales
Monday, July 22, 2024

Public Concerns Raised over Proposed Plastic Pipe Plant in Lake Wales


by James Coulter

Appalling, immoral, and possibly illegal. Those words were used to describe the city’s process to approve plans for a major manufacturing plant in Lake Wales.

During public comments at the Lake Wales City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Catherine Price, a Lake Wales resident, raised concerns many residents allegedly had about a proposal for a plastic pipe plant planned for a 100-acre site near Hunts Brothers Road and 11th Street.

The proposed plant will manufacture corrugated pipes, typically used for stormwater projects, produced from recycled plastic pellets, as Lake Wales News reported. When completed, it is expected to employ 65 workers during its primary shift, with three shifts operating 24 hours a day.

“Because the finished pipes would be stored in the open rather than inside warehouses, the plant requires a Special Exception Use Permit,” LakeWalesNews.net reported. “The location of the plant is adjacent to several recently-approved residential projects, one of which proposes to build townhomes on property adjacent to the site. It is also only a short distance from both the municipal limits of Highland Park and Highland Park Manor, an unincorporated residential community.”

Due to the nature of the production of these pipes and the plant’s proximity to residential properties, concerns have been raised about the environmental impact, as well as noise, light, and traffic. However, during her comments, Price focused on the alleged lack of transparency over the city’s process to approve the project.

Originally, a special session of the Planning and Zoning Board meeting to approve the special permit for the plant was to be hosted at 5:30 pm on Jan. 12, around the same time as the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Park Avenue Market redesign.

The announcement for the meeting had been made that Monday, Jan. 9, and the time being adjacent with the groundbreaking ceremony raised a “red flag” for Price. Upon checking the agenda for the meeting, she discovered the discussion for the pipe plant project was the only item.

That Wed., Jan. 11, during a City Commission work session, several of the city commissioners were allegedly unaware of the pipe plant proposal until they read about it in an article the LakeWalesNews.net published earlier that week, Price claimed.

“City Manager James Slatton informed all of us that the decision on the planning and zoning meeting on Thursday would be a final decision for this project,” she said during her comments. “He said he planned a press conference on Friday to announce this to the public.”

Price requested permitting plans to see how the plant had been re-zoned. She received some correspondence about the project, which date as far back as 2021.

“So, some of the city and economic development officials have been aware of this project for a year and a half, yet the people who will have to live around the plant and whose property value and health will be affected by the plant just found out about it,” she said.

“The way that this has been handled, in my opinion, by the people of the city is pretty appalling. It is immoral. It lacks transparency. And it is possibly illegal,” she said. “We, as the citizens of the City of Lake Wales call on our city commissioners to hold city staff accountable for this behavior and protect the safety and wellbeing of our citizens first and foremost.”

Catherine Price, the wife of Bok Tower Gardens President, David Price, had previously served as Chairwoman of the Polk County Healthcare Alliance from 2007 to 2010. She ran as a candidate for Florida Senate District 26 in 2018.

Price has remained vocal about similar annexations of property into the city limits. In a tweet posted on the City of Lake Wales’s Twitter, she had allegedly claimed that “people are not aware of the annexations and rezoning.”

She had recently experienced major pushback for her public comments during a City Commission meeting on Dec. 20, as Mayor Jack Hilligoss had threatened to have her arrested over a dispute to comments being reduced from five to two minutes and being limited to residents living inside the city limits, as reported by the Polk-News Sun.

**The Planning and Zoning special board meeting was abruptly canceled late Wednesday afternoon!**

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