Charlie Keith Is Spot On

Keith swornin In: Charlie Keith Is Spot On | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Charlie Keith is sworn in as board member by Counselor Tom Reeves. Photo by your historian

Following is the Lake City Reporter’s account of the Thursday meeting of the county commissioners where the new septic tank regulations were reviewed.  This was an information-only presentation, with no action by the commissioners.

For the record, your historian, quoted at the end, said the following, part of which was written by Mike Roth, who is president of OSFR.  Director too, if we have one.

It’s puzzling that the Santa Fe Basin BMAP gets toothy only with septic tanks on lots less than one acre, when the whole “septic” category ranges from 2%-14%* of the groundwater loading in the Priority Focus Areas.

 Meanwhile, “agriculture and livestock waste” amount to between 56% and 78%* of the nutrient loading in the basin, and are subjected only to voluntary Best Management Practices. The state should be mandating Best Management Practices, and should be financially supporting the farmers in their implementation.

So yes, OSFR supports these regulations, but the burden they place on citizens is not fairly distributed.  We must all pay, every one of us, but proportionately, and that includes agriculture, who, in rural counties such as Columbia, is by far the largest contributor to nitrates.  

The DEP seems to have lots of money to use.  We suggest you get tough with regulations but help out the farmer and the new septic owner. The current BMAPs are not working and must get much broader and tougher.

Although flawed, because it is unfair and too small, this is a tiny step in the right direction.

Appreciation goes to Charlie Keith of SRWMD who understands the issue.  OSFR would contend that every new septic permit, no matter the size lot, no matter if in a special zone, must have the new system.  Also, agriculture must also make changes, and we must all share the cost.  Clean water is not negotiable.

Mr. Keith, are you sure you are not a secret member of OSFR?

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

Newly built homes are about to get significantly more expensive in Columbia County thanks to incoming septic tank regulations, two industry insiders say, fearing it will bring construction to a crawl.
Starting July 1, conventional septic tanks cannot be installed in lots smaller than an acre within a special area — which accounts for most of southern Columbia County.  (See map, Page 8A, with accompanying instructions to see if you live in the affected area.)

Instead, builders and homeowners must utilize costlier nitrogen-reducing systems aimed at protecting the water supply.  “It’s another government regulation that’s going to kill our economy in Lake City,” said developer Tom Eagle. The rule is established by the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, which the state legislature passed in 2016.

Excessive nitrate pollution promotes runaway algae growth, which threatens under water life, according to the Suwannee River Water Management District.  There have been documented cases of infant death and serious illness due to excessive nitrate levels in drinking water,  according to the DEP website.

County Manager Ben Scott said the nitrogen-reducing septic tanks are estimated to be anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 more expensive than a standard $3,500 system.  In addition, maintenance and permitting costs are estimated at about $350 per year.  Eagle said he has a
40-lot subdivision and an eight-lot subdivision that will both be affected.  The added cost will
severely stunt home construction in the area, he said.

“I don’t know how Columbia County’s going to handle it,” Eagle said.  “It’s definitely going to
impact the buyers’ ability — which were struggling already — to be able to afford a new home.”
Wealthier communities such as Duval County can easily eat the extra cost, he said. This community can’t.

The nitrogen-reducing septic tanks are estimated to be anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 more
expensive than a standard $3,500 system. In addition, maintenance and permitting costs are
estimated at about $350 per year.

“We do not have the income base in Columbia County to absorb another hit,” Eagle said.  Most of the homes built in the area need septic tanks, Eagle said.  “I’m eco-friendly, don’t get me wrong, but there’s got to be a better solution,” he said.

This year’s Parade of Homes, the first in Lake City in more than a decade, saw a record number of 17 newly built homes on the market, Eagle said.  If the septic tank rule had been in place, that number would have been about four or five, he said. The commercial real estate market has already slowed down here, Eagle said.

“Now we’re going to slow the residential new construction down,” he said.  “It’s just unreasonable.” Prominent Columbia County home builder Bryan Zecher said the rule will
disproportionately impact lower-income, first-time buyers.

When a $200,000 home becomes a $215,000 home due to the rule, it amounts to a significant increase for buyers in that price range “That’s almost an eight percent increase overnight,” he said.

But more expensive houses are typically constructed on lots larger than an acre and won’t be affected.  “An increase in cost of this magnitude — I think it will affect the construction industry,” he said.

“Hopefully it’s something that we can recover from.”  The septic tank requirement is one of the three biggest issues facing the industry today, the other two being rising lumber costs and a labor shortage, he said.

Charlie Keith, who owns a pawn shop in Lake City and also sits on the Suwannee River Water Management District board, said the rules are the inevitable consequence of growth.  “For us to have sustainable water, we’re going to have to make changes,” said Keith, who was speaking as a private citizen.

He acknowledged that the rules would have some adverse effects, but said nitrate pollution is a
large problem that must be addressed.  “Everybody is going to have to tighten their belt,
because there’s just a lot of consumption out of the aquifer,” he said. “We have to eliminate the nitrates as best we can so we have quality water.”

Keith said it’s better to take action now rather than wait until the problem grows.  “The public will have to grasp that change is inevitable to sustain life,” he said.  Lake City Board of Realtors Executive Vice President Dan Gherna said that though the price of a newly constructed home
will go up due to the rules, there are a number of other factors driving up costs, such as President Trump’s tariffs on Canadian lumber.

“It’s just another wrench in the cog,” Gherna said.  About 75 percent of houses on the market are on half-acre lots, Gherna estimated.  That might slow down housing construction, but likely won’t cripple the housing market as a whole in Columbia County.  “There’s not going to be a significant impact,” he said.

Gherna said he is afraid the rules are written too broadly, making it easier to pass more restrictive measures down the road.  “They left the door open for tighter regulations,” he said.  When state officials went over the new rule during Thursday’s County Commission meeting, Zecher voiced his opposition.

“You’re going to hurt our industry” he told commissioners. “I think that’s a major economic punch.”  The goal of the regulation is to eventually reduce the amount of harmful nutrients
in the water supply by 1.8 million to 2 million pounds, Florida Department of Environmental Protection geologist Terry Hansen said at Thursday’s County Commission meeting.

“It’s a large task,” he said.  About 7 percent of those nutrients come from septic tanks.  Hansen acknowledged that the change will have an adverse effect on home buyers.  “That’s the hand we’re
dealt,” he said. “And we have to play it.”  The rules won’t apply to septic tank permits request-
ed before July 1, and they’re good for 18 months, Hansen said.

Jim Tatum, director of nonprofit group Our Santa Fe River, told commissioners he found it puzzling that lawmakers are only forceful about protecting water quality when it comes to residential septic tanks, while agriculture is responsible for the majority of nitrate runoff. “The burden they place on the citizens is not evenly distributed,” Tatum said

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Jim, for representing OSFR at the meeting. And thank you, Charles Keith, for showing an understanding of the issue not apparently understood by all of your fellow Suwannee River Water Management Board members. And thank you, DEP, for tackling the problem with at least 7% of the polluters. Now what about the other 93%???

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