On Feb. 27, 2011, the Washington Post invited six new members of Congress to "tell their tales in their own words." Two of them were Floridians: Republican Rep. Allen West from District 22 and Rep. Frederica Wilson from District 17, both in Southeastern Florida.
Wilson, the Miami Democrat who was elected to Congress for the first time in November, recalled how, when she was principal at Skyway Elementary in the Carol City neighborhood outside Miami, Miami-Dade County permitted a garbage plant to be built across the street from her school.
The outcome, she said in the Washington Post article: "We closed that plant down. It was a $27 million-dollar plant, operating full steam, and we closed it down."
We knew Wilson had a long track record as an educator before turning to politics. But she had a hand in closing a multimillion-dollar plant? We had to check it out.
The plant in question was called Agripost and was built in November 1988 across the street from Skyway, the Carol City elementary school. Wilson, a veteran with the school system, was the principal.
County Hall had hoped that Agripost would help solve Miami-Dade’s trash problems by turning household trash into compost through a process of shredding and fermenting. The plant was to use the composting technology to convert household garbage into a soil additive for agricultural use.
"The county was looking for innovative ways to deal with the waste," Clerk of the Courts Harvey Ruvin, who then served as a commissioner, said in an interview.
But it didn't turn out as planned.
After it opened, the plant at 20600 NW 47th Ave. emitted an odor that troubled Wilson and her students.
"It was awful," Wilson said by telephone. "It smelled like rotting eggs and dog poo."
And so the students made phone calls, wrote letters to government officials, and showed up at commission and school board meetings in red "Skyway" T-shirts. They stood on their tiptoes to reach the microphones.
"She was very forceful on behalf of the children, as I recall," Ruvin said.
Newspaper accounts credit Wilson for leading the charge.
"What was the plant's biggest nemesis?" a Wall Street Journal report asked in a December 1991 article. "The Skyway Elementary School across the street. Principal Frederica Wilson is a self-proclaimed environmentalist. But she claimed a stench from the plant permeated school grounds, causing children to vomit or have nosebleeds, and she led a revolt against the plant."
The plant closed in January 1991, barely two years after it opened. One report in the Miami Herald, on Nov. 25, 1990, said Agripost spent $20 million to build the plant. Another, on Dec. 23, 1990, said it was a $25 million plant.
Agripost appealed the commission's decision, and in 1994 sued the county for $140 million. According to a Miami Herald report on Oct. 4, 1994, the lawsuit claimed the company had invested $40 million in the plant and also sought $100 million in damages for the "destruction of the company" when county commissioners voted to revoke the company’s zoning authorization. The decision threw Agripost into bankruptcy.
Wilson said, "We closed that plant down. It was a $27 million-dollar plant, operating full steam, and we closed it down." (As for the different estimates for the cost of the plant, Wilson said by phone: "You know how long that’s been? I don’t remember everything.") But after 20 years, her memory in the Washington Post article was on target. We rate this True.