‘Opod’ creator in Siesta Key waters fights county on whether or not his project is a vessel as possible fines, court action come his way
By Ned Steele
Is it agriculture – or is it aquaculture?
That dispute between environmental entrepreneur Todd Kleperis, who is piloting a planned global-scale aquaculture business by growing mushrooms on an “Opod” floating in Siesta Key waters, and Sarasota County, which says he is operating illegally, is heating up.
At issue is whether the pod is a sea vessel, as Kleperis maintains, or a structure that should be shut down for illegally engaging in agriculture at its shoreline location, as the county claims.
After a mid-June enforcement deadline passed for Kleperis and his company, Tekmara, to stop the mushroom-growing operation, the county said it would issue a violation and haul Kleperis into court, where he could be fined up to $500 a day.
Kleperis, calling county regulators “idiots,” has provided registration documents to the Siesta Sand he says prove that the state of Florida has officially registered the pod as a sea vessel.
He also provided a video that shows the mushroom pod puttering about its offshore location under its own power, which Kleperis says is solar. Photos posted on the Tekmara website show the pod sitting on stilts in shallow water just offshore, however.
“This is a vessel and has been proven as such,” Kleperis told the Siesta Sand. “They are idiots trying to get a fee out of us. I won’t stand for it.”
Kleperis said the county enforcement action is delaying Tekmara’s planned $2 million round of financing and “has cost us money, resources and legal fees to even defend something they have no right over … they have zero jurisdiction and we have asked countless times for proof they can permit or fine a maritime vessel.”
Sarasota County, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the state boat registration documents or the video, saying it “does not comment on pending or active litigation.” But the spokesman said that “the property owner will receive an affidavit of violation that will set a date with the special magistrate.”
“As you can see this clearly moves under power — electric power,” Kleperis said, referencing the video supplied to the Siesta Sand. He added that previous court cases in the state support his position.
The pod, which looks rather like a small outdoor shower stall mounted on a raft, floats off Siesta Key Circle, near the north bridge, off property Kleperis owns. Inspired by Asia’s floating farms, it is the vanguard of what Kleperis envisions as a global business that raises crops on solar power and desalinates the water it sits in. The desalinated water cools the growing plants, eliminating the need for air conditioning and lighting.
The mushrooms are being offered for sale to local restaurants. Kleperis chose them for this pilot project because they are an easy-growing, high-yielding crop.