Produce pioneer may take his floating pods to Bahamas

Written by on Friday, December 8, 2023

After he thought he won in court, Sarasota County throws more obstacles his way.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Dec. 8, 2023

Host: Sarasota County tried to block an entrepreneur who wants to feed the world using floating grow pods. The entrepreneur won in court — kind of. But now he is facing more obstacles, as WSLR reporter Ramon Lopez found out.

Kleperis. Photo: Lopez

Ramon Lopez: It’s been a long and winding road for Todd Kleperis in his battle with Sarasota County. The eco-entrepreneur had been locally testing a unique growing system that he hopes will feed poor and starving people around the world.

But Kleperis has thrown in the towel and will exit Siesta Key, after losing a court battle over his research pod. He told WSLR News that he will most likely finish his research and launch his multimillion dollar project in the Bahamas, which he says will welcome his work.

He believed that a Sarasota County special magistrate had ruled that his contraption, dubbed an OPod for Ocean Pod, could stay put. But the courtroom battle only resulted in a standoff with the Sarasota County Planning and Development Services. And Keperis is fuming over what amounted to the judge’s split decision.

The six-foot-tall metal object had been bobbing in water just off a quiet residential neighborhood of Siesta Key. Inside was a test crop of oyster mushrooms, growing with the help of desalinated water and solar power.

OPod at Kleperis’ property on Siesta Key.

Kleperis fought with Sarasota County for months over whether or not his innovative Opod prototype is a “vessel” as he maintains, or an illegal agricultural “structure,” as the county claims. He provided proof of his registration and title from the State of Florida
to county officials, showing the OPod is documented as a vessel. But Sarasota County thought otherwise.

Storm clouds were on the horizon for the local entrepreneur over the legal dispute. Kleperis faced stiff fines from the county, roadblocks to his research, and a hindrance to his fundraising.

A mid-June enforcement deadline passed for Kleperis. Sarasota County threatened to fine him up to $500 a day, if his OPod stayed in the water.

His battle with bureaucracy seeking to shut down his development came to a head on Aug. 25 at a critical court hearing before
Sarasota County Special Magistrate Brian Kessler. After the hearing, Kessler produced a detailed eight-page legal analysis. He upheld the violation, but said Kleperis did not have to pay any fines since the OPod was put on dry land for protection in advance of Hurricane Idalia. But Kessler ruled the inventor would need a county-issued permit to resume his water-borne research project off Siesta Key Circle.

The court case may now be closed, but the debate continues.

Kleperis told WSLR News: “We feel unjustly vilified. Selective enforcement was used to pinpoint our work on the ocean as an eyesore to the neighborhood.”

The sustainable ocean-based growing system can produce food without fresh water, power or soil. His application calls on advanced technologies and corporate partnerships to increase the yield. Kleperis says the types of produce that can be grown in OPods is endless. And he says the amount of veggies produced is enormous.

Kleperis charged that Sarasota County was ‘playing hardball’ with him at the bequest of wealthy homeowners who live across the street from the shoreline he owns and where the OPod prototype floated. He says they didn’t like what they see, and didn’t want to know what his project is all about.

Rendering of future OPod.

“We honestly could care less what the people behind our project thought, because our mission is to protect the ocean and help the
planet for future generations,” he said. “We couldn’t worry if we blocked the view for some swank millionaire’s home.”

“The county just caved in when people from the HOA behind us called to complain. Typical governmental lame-duck response.”

Kleperis said he is “moving the science to another region”, and has put his Siesta Key land up for sale.

Reflecting back on the matter, Kleperis said there were many supporters of his work, including Sarasota’s own prosecutor. He said the senior county official stated “We love what Mr. Kleperis is doing. We just wish he wasn’t doing it where he is.”

Kleperis’s final words on the matter?

“If that doesn’t speak to the profiling and selective enforcement, nothing does.”

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.