PALM CITY, Fla. — A local, organic farm in Martin County is under investigation by the Army Corps of Engineers, over claims that activity at the farm disturbed wetlands and contaminated federal waterways.
The owner of Nesha Farms denies the allegations and further says the corps has no proof of allegations that stated in an anonymous complaint.
Now, owner Ben Sharfi is challenging the investigation, calling it an overreach and abuse of power by the federal government.
Sharfi says Nesha Farms is a passion project of his, developed over 30-acres of land where he employs 25 people and provides a home to 70 species of animals in the mix of an organic food farm.
“We provide clean, quality food with animals that needed a home and created this beautiful creation,” Sharfi said. “There’s absolutely zero, zero chemicals. We are organic farm.”
This week, the Army Corps of Engineers is on-site, spending hours collecting samples and reviewing the property, over clams that work done near and around wetlands on the property violated the Clean Water Act.
“I don’t know what they’re doing here, short of it’s a witch hunt,” Sharfi said.
In a complaint, the Army Corps of Engineers says Nesha Farms and Sharfi disturbed the wetlands, using heavy equipment that “moved dredged spoil, biological materials, rock, sand, cellar dirt, or other earthen materials into wetlands on the Site.”
The complaint continues that Sharfi built a dirt road through wetlands, and replaced wetlands on the site with dry land or changed the elevation of wetlands on the site.
The corps claims a permit was required to fill work, but Sharfi is challenging whether the Army Corps has jurisdiction on the property in the first place.
The Army Corps says it has jurisdiction on the property because the wetlands on property “borders and abuts Bessey Creek” which flows into the C-23 canal and the St. Lucie River.
Sharfi and his attorney claim the Army Corps is over-stepping because they do not believe wetlands on the property are part of the connecting waterways. Bessey Creek, Sharfi says, is several miles from the Nesha Farms. The St. Lucie River’s north fork is more than a dozen miles away, Sharfi says.
Sharfi says work was done on the property, however, to remove invasive plants, and plant new trees. He said he also wanted to build a shade structure for his grazing animals and says he had support from Martin County.
“We’ve planted over 2000 trees for shade, we did a lot of beautiful things for nature,” Sharfi says.
He does not feel there is any way the Army Corps can prove that work done on the property could have contaminated Bessey Creek or the St. Lucie River, and feels his small property is being unfairly subjected to an Army Corps investigation.
“This is the federal government. Government of the U.S. is suing Ben Sharfi, individual farmer with 25 employees, for a case that we are disrupting U.S. waterways 20 miles away,” Sharfi said.
Sharfi says he does not know what the Army Corps is specifically looking for on his property, adding to his frustrations.
“Imagine somebody came to your house, with no warrant, no probable cause, and got a judge to say he’s allowed to come to your house where you live for as many days as they like to search and dig holes…to find something to bring incriminating charges against you,” Sharfi said.
Sharfi does not know what he stands to lose in the investigation but hopes it will not impact jobs for his employees.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it could not comment because of ongoing litigation.