Stew Lilker of the Columbia County Observer reviews the actions of the Fort White Town Council regarding the issue of supporting or not the Seven Springs permit renewal for pumping water from Ginnie Springs and selling it to Nestle.
The Council had many weeks to consider the proposal, but after receiving a one-page fact sheet and three-page graph report from the water district on the day of the meeting, they declined to act on the issue. Exception was James Farron Richardson, who had done his homework and tried to do his job, but his motion was unanswered by a second.
Adding to the confusion was the district’s county commissioner, Mr. Rocky Ford. He did not go to the podium during public comments, but afterward from his seat in the audience he discussed the unanimous vote against Nestle at the Columbia County Commission meeting. He made disparaging comments regarding this decision, back peddling on his role in that vote, where he followed the leaders. His waffling clearly implied support to the nestle workers sitting beside him, a complete reversal from his actions in Lake City.
Mr. Lilker writes that the permit has been “…a hot button issue in the region for months and has been reported by the media across Florida.” The fact is that it also has been reported nationally and internationally, as OSFR has been involved with articles in the New York Times, Newsweek and England’s The Guardian. If any of the council members are fans of world news, they could have read about their back yard in several major world news sources.
One wonders why Mayor Frazier, after weeks and weeks, waited until the day of the vote to seek additional information from the water district.
One also wonders why, if he is totally impartial, he states that the issue is important because it could affect somebody’s job, but fails to say it could affect somebody’s river and springs.
Irony has it that Fort White has water problems with their drinking water, with Nestle knocking at the door. Not as bad as Flint, MI, but dirty water is dirty water and no one likes to drink it. Flint suffered the same bullying from Nestle, who now draws out 200 gpm of good water while Flint residents are left with pollution to drink. Nestle has done the same in California, taking the only good water source, leaving little for the locals.
Thanks again to Richardson who is able to view the crux of issue when he says it is about the risk of 50 jobs opposed to the risk of the springs. We could point out that money can be replaced but springs cannot.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Fort White backs off vote in opposition of Seven Springs – Nestle permit renewal
Part II: Koberlein Law Firm Confuses the Issue
Posted December 15, 2019 02:00 am | Part I | Updated 10:26 am
FORT WHITE, FL – After hearing from those concerned: Seven Springs, Nestle, and the environmentalists, the Town Council got down to the business it was elected to do – decision making. The question: whether or not to resolve in opposition to the renewal of the Seven Springs water permit.
The permit renewal, which needs to be approved by the Suwannee River Water Management District, would allow Seven Springs to pump from Ginnie Springs approximately 1.152 mil gallons a day. In 2016, bottled water accounted for 0.34% of the total estimated ground water used.
In 2015, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Suwannee River Water Management District implemented a prevention and recovery strategy to help restore the quality of the river.
In 2019, the Florida Springs Institute wrote that the average flows in the springs and the entire Santa Fe River are down 30 to 40 percent.
The resolution states that over five-billion gallons of groundwater is being drawn from the Floridian aquifer every day and extraction at the current rate results in negative effects on the aquifer, wildlife, environment, and economic prosperity.
The Town Council would vote to approve a resolution in opposition to the continued pumping of water by Seven Springs. This is the same resolution that was approved by Columbia County on October 3, 2019.
The County Resolution was a 12th hour addition to the agenda and barely a handful of people knew about it.
Councilman James Richardson asked if it was explained at the County if passing the resolution against the permit “would have some weight at the Water Management District?”
It was just advisory.
Councilman Richardson said, “I think we’ve done a better job of hearing everybody; this is the third time. Everybody knew it was advertised – an unbelievable turnout – all the people that care. I appreciate that.”
The Fort White Town Council previously heard comments regarding the Seven Springs permit renewal on October 21 and November 25.
The permit renewal has been a hot button issue in the region for months and has been reported by the media across Florida and explanations and views regarding the Seven Springs permit were widely known and available.
Mayor Ronnie Frazier asked if the Council had done its research, adding that he contacted the Suwannee River Water Management District earlier in the day.
As a result of that contact, the District’s PR person, Katelyn Potter, sent over some information via email. The first time it was available to the Council members was at the evening’s meeting. One of the pieces of information was updated earlier in the day. The Council members said they hadn’t had a chance to look at it.
Mayor Frazier explained the recent documents with, “It’s a last minute deal.”
Mayor Frazier said he wasn’t sure if this should even be in front of the Council.
Mayor Frazier with recently received info from the SRWMD.
He asked, “Do you have enough information to make a decision? Are you willing to make a decision that could affect somebody’s job? “I’m not sayin’ one side’s wrong, one side’s right. I don’t know.”
Councilman Richardson added, “From what I’ve heard here, we have about 50 local jobs that could be put at risk if the permits denied.” “The other side says the springs will be put at risk.”
The Mayor said, “I understand. It is a hard decision.”
Councilman Bill Koon said, “We just got this tonight (SRWMD info). I’m not to the point where I’m ready to make a decision.”
Councilman Richardson asked, “Do we need to table it until we have time to look at this new information?”
Councilman Koon, “I want to be fair on my vote. I’m not ready. We’re just gettin’ the information from them [Water Management District].
Mayor Frasier asked, “Is there a motion on the table?”
City Councilman James Richardson
Councilman Richardson followed up, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable on asking anybody to vote on something they didn’t have a chance to look at. I see that happening on a national level now.”
Mayor Frazer asked, “Do you feel strongly enough to make a motion?”
Councilman Richardson responded, “I already did once before that we approve – basically sign off on off on the same thing that our County did.”
Mayor Frazier asked, “Do you want to make that another motion?”
Councilman Richardson said, “I’m more educated now, but my opinion hasn’t changed. I still think it’s long term bad for springs.”
Koberlein Law: what are they doing?
All of a sudden Koberlein Law’s Brittany Loper injects herself into the proceedings.
Attorney Loper asks Councilman Richardson, “So you’re making a motion?”
Was Ms. Loper paying attention? Just a moment before Mr. Richardson said, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable on asking anybody to vote on something they didn’t have a chance to look at.”
None of the Councilmen had a chance to conscientiously review the SRWMD info, which among other things mentioned there were over 15,000 public comments concerning the Seven Springs permit.
Councilman Richardson answers, “Yes.”
Mayor Frazier asked, “So do we have a second on the motion, accepting the resolution?”
Silence: the motion died for lack of a second.