Wedding crashers: Controversial spraying plagues historic site – FOX 5 Atlanta

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Tiana and Patrick Dragos with the wedding venue they bought in Hancock County. The flies, vultures and stench have become surprise uninvited guests.

It all seemed so perfect. A family from Washington State buys a historic home/wedding venue and then moves to quiet Hancock County a couple of hours east of Atlanta.

But the next year came the vultures. And the flies. And the smell.

“It smelled like rotting flesh,” said Tiana Dragos, co-owner of the Jewell House.

The Dragos say vultures regularly gather near the wedding venue since the soil amendment operation cranked up nearby. (photo by Dragos family)

Tiana and her husband Patrick eventually realized their rustic wedding venue was a mile away from a major dumping ground for food waste products, a process known as soil amendments.

Food manufacturers struggle with where to put their liquid waste. In the last few years, companies like Wilcorp have struck deals to haul that waste to farm fields across Georgia where farmers are paid to have the mixture sprayed on the soil as a fertilizer.

A series of tankers that offload liquid food waste to be eventually sprayed on this open field in Hancock County. Critics say the smell is far worse than what comes from a typical farm. (Photo by Dragos family)

As the practice grew, so have the complaints from neighbors.

State regulators cited some farmers for improperly handling the soil amendment, including one in Wilkes County that led to a fish kill in 2022. Mar-Leta paid an $85,000 fine and had to clean up the site.

Lawmakers passed legislation to add more inspectors and increase testing to make sure the soil wasn’t being damaged by too much spraying.

House Bill 1223 could tighten spraying rules even more.

But without zoning protection, adjacent homeowners are powerless to prevent a soil amendment operation next door and the nuisances that often come with it.

“Our noses tell us when something’s wrong,” Patrick pointed out. “And when you’re smelling rotting… the smell of rotting corpses, decay, that’s not right.”

They already have half a dozen weddings booked this year for the 46-acre property that overlooks a scenic pond.

“If there’s a problem, it’s going to happen the day of the wedding,” said a worried Tiana. “So I would have to refund the wedding probably in full and ruin their day.”

Some of the 756 acres owned by Lucky Strike Farms in Hancock County where trucks spray soil amendments to grow crops like hay and bermuda grass.

The Dragos drove over to see the operation for themselves. They recorded some of the dozens of Wilcorp tankers that pull up each week — sometimes that many in a single day, they say. Vultures circle the property and also perch on a church next door to the Dragos’ home.

The owner of Wilcorp — Joe Wilbanks — also heads up Lucky Strike Farms, a company that bought the 756 acres near the Jewell wedding venue, ensuring control over both the hauling and the spraying.

Wilbanks wouldn’t respond to written questions from the FOX 5 I-Team. Twelve years earlier, he was at the center of a similar issue in Toccoa.

Wilbanks ran a business called Wilbros that sprayed liquid poultry waste on wood chips that he then sold for mulch. But nearby schools complained they had to cancel activities because of the overwhelming smell.

“It’s not an offensive odor to me,” Wilbanks told us then.

It took years of citations from the city of Toccoa before Wilbanks finally shut down the site.

This Wilcorp supervisor confirmed they are paid by the food manufacturers to take their liquid waste and spray it on fields.

A Wilcorp supervisor approached the FOX 5 I-Team while we parked along a public road near the spraying site in Hancock County.

“All the farmers, all the cattlemen praise us and ask us to do it more,” he said, referring to the effectiveness of the spraying.

What about the vultures? He said they’re attracted to the smell.

“It’s a food byproduct from Fieldale,” he said, mentioning one of the major poultry producers in Georgia. “The smell’s just something we can’t do anything about it.”

FOX 5 introduced him to Patrick Dragos and pointed out the wedding venue nearby.

“Brother, I’m sorry,” said the supervisor.

And with that, he returned to work.

This post was originally published on this site

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