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Alachua County Commission Chair Charles Chestnut IV speaks the truth on water: “It is Alachua County’s responsibility to protect our springs and water supply.” This is not simple lip-service, Mr. Chestnut & Commissioners walk the walk. Every county should have such people as leaders.
Charles S. Chestnut IV: Protecting our precious water means crossing city lines
Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 2:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 2:35 p.m.
It is Alachua County’s responsibility to protect our springs and water supply.
On May 12, the Alachua County Commission voted to legally challenge a recent decision by the city of Alachua to allow intensified land development on 153 acres that overlay a highly sensitive portion of the Mill Creek Sink watershed.
The county is concerned that without adequate plans for advanced pollution prevention and stormwater treatment, the development (which may be permitted as a result of the city’s proposed zoning change) may damage and pollute the underlying underwater cave system, downstream drinking water supplies and the springs on the Santa Fe River.
The good news is that we have many encouraging local examples that demonstrate how the county has successfully worked with developers to resolve these types of issues.
The original plans for Progress Park in Alachua proposed intensive development very close to the Lee Sink basin, another vulnerable stream-to-sink drainage system that directly connects to the Floridan Aquifer and the Santa Fe River springs. The final land development plans for Progress Park provided protection to Lee Sink by transferring this area to the San Felasco State Preserve.
The Celebration Pointe development near Interstate 75 at Archer Road set aside 103 acres of the most environmentally sensitive portion of their property in a conservation easement, including a large wetland that will continue to provide natural water filtration.
Recently news stories in The Sun have quoted people suggesting that the county’s challenge would adversely affect the Wal-Mart Supercenter and that the county is entering the conversation at the last minute. In actuality, it was 2006 when Alachua County entered into a voluntary agreement with Wal-Mart to include certain advanced pollution prevention and advanced stormwater treatment practices in their development. The process worked well, an agreement was reached and our watershed was protected.
The county is particularly concerned about the sensitivity of the area in question. In 2005, Alachua County commissioned the Mill Creek and Lee Creek dye trace study, conducted by Karst Environmental Services Inc. This study confirmed that the Mill Creek Sink drainage system, which originates in Alachua near the intersection of U.S. 441 and I-75, includes a rapid water flow connection to Hornsby Springs on the Santa Fe River.
The county has long recognized the strategic importance of the Mill Creek Watershed. In 2002, the first purchase of the county’s voter approved Alachua County Forever land conservation program was the 1,200- acre Mill Creek Preserve. Protection of the creek’s headwaters was an important factor in that purchase decision.
The following link goes to the video “Water’s Journey” by famed cave diver Wes Skiles: https://youtu.be/VUrh_vTLfdM. Much of the footage in this video is directly under the area in question.
Locally and statewide, there is broad agreement that we need to protect our springs and water resources. The hard work, as has been demonstrated by the state Legislature’s ongoing efforts to pass meaningful springs protection legislation, is to go beyond words and to take action.
Preventing further degradation of our precious waters and restoring those waters that are already troubled will sometimes mean making difficult decisions. As our area continues to grow, one of our greatest local challenges is how to constructively resolve conflicts between land development interests and water resource protection, particularly in high growth corridors such as the U.S. 441 Alachua-High Springs corridor that overlay some of our most vulnerable water resources.
It is important to remember that in 2000 Alachua County voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, a citizen’s initiative that granted the county regulatory authority to extend its water quality regulations within municipal boundaries. The voters clearly understood that sometimes protecting our precious water means crossing city lines.
We are hopeful that Alachua County and the city of Alachua can work together and lead by example as we establish a framework that will allow development while protecting our water resources.
Charles S. Chestnut IV is chairman of the Alachua County Commission.