An unusually long meeting (six hours, including the working lunch and workshop,) took place Tuesday July 10, 2018 in Live Oak at the SRWMD headquarters, including a couple of surprises for the public. Additionally, some items which had previously created some controversy were on the agenda, which drew a larger than average audience.
The first of the response-driving issues was item 19 on the agenda: “Approval of Environmental Resource Permit ERP-125-231349-1, Authorizing Wetland Restoration and Conservation Efforts at Fern Pond in Union County.” This property, Shadd Properties, LLC, thought to belong to the Shadd family of the proposed phosphate mine, contained wetlands allegedly drained over a period of many years, and was at one time included in the proposed mine area.
The “…mitigation plan includes a 222.35-acre conservation easement, classified as wetland forested mixed. Other mitigation efforts include removing 0.50 acres of non-exempted roads in wetlands, plugging ditches with earthen ditch blocks, installing culverts to increase hydrology, and filling 1.84 acres of excavated ponds.”
The estimated cost for maintenance and monitoring activities within the mitigation areas is approximately $44,750.00 initially then an average of $7,750.00 annually, with up to $171,550.00 reserved for supplemental tree planting. Permit condition 25 requires performance bond payment prior to recording the conservation easement and prior to construction.
Additionally, the permittee shall pay a penalty of $19,820.98 for the unpermitted wetland alterations, with one-half the costs of restoration activities within the conservation easement (up to a maximum $10,000.00) eligible to be returned if incurred.
Taken from SRWMD Agenda Packet, July 10, 2018 meeting
OSFR board members spoke to this agenda item, giving recognition to the Board for exercising their powers to effect the restoration in this area.
Agenda item 20, approving an ERP for the Keystone RV Resort in Bradford County passed unanimously. This was a hard-fought battle by nearby residents, in which OSFR also participated. The RV park is situated on or next to wetlands adjacent to Lake Santa Fe, from which the river emerges. Stasia Rudolph traveled to the meeting to express her disagreement.
Supplemental item 1: “Approval of Environmental Resource Permit Application ERP-007-232576-1, Sampson River Debris Removal, Bradford County, was a surprise for OSFR, as we found out that this water body drains water polluted by Chemours mine upstream. The issue is that during Hurricane Erma, many trees were downed, and Bradford County local authorities want them cleared to improve water flow. To effect this project, they have acquired a grant for funding.
OSFR opposed this idea for the simple fact that cleaning the
channel goes against nature, given that it is a very small stream surrounded by wetlands, and naturally has tree blockage which causes the water to flow into the wetlands where it is filtered down into the aquifer over time, and also undergoes some transpiration.
Cleaning the channel will cause a rapid exit of the water into the Santa Fe River, as it will not flow into the wetlands to sink into the soil and aquifer. This simple concept was not understood by all board members, who, after much discussion, voted unanimously for approval.
OSFR is a principal stakeholder in this issue because the water draining through this system contains pollutants from the Chemours mine upstream.
Another item generating much discussion and controversy was item 26, the Water Supply Assessment 2015-2035 and Delineation of Water Supply Planning Regions within the Suwannee River Water Management District. This document has been in the works for years with many public meetings. It should be noted that Florida law says the plan must be reviewed every five years. The reviews will be in five-year increments from the beginning, which means that the first review will take place in 2020, only two years from now. As we see, the plan should have been put in place earlier.
OSFR has gone on record as opposing the document as inadequate and unrealistic because of an overly-conservative estimate of future deficit, and failure to address viable solutions. The final version of this document is quite different from earlier ones, and here the controversy remains regarding the small deficit predicted.
This unrealistic deficit gave the board no concerns, however, they had others, namely the second part of the item title: Delineation of Regions. The latest version of the water plan included extensions of the water precautionary areas to include parts of the Suwannee basin. Some board members were afraid this meant their irrigation activities might be curtailed. Staff member Tom Mirti, and later Executive Director Hugh Thomas emphasized that in spite of all efforts, the water flow is diminishing. This has been shown on the district’s charts for years, in a steady downward direction, notwithstanding normal rainfall over a period of decades. Going back over the records will reveal that this in nothing new.
Some board members were in denial, questioning the science of their staff. The irony here is that according to several independent water scientists, the staff at SRWMD and other districts are ultra conservative and not telling the half of the problem. The bottom line is that those concerned board members are seeing only the tip of the iceberg although they do not realize that.
Two OSFR board members as well as a representative of the Ichetucknee Alliance spoke here in favor of the district’s science staff, only to be rebuffed by the non-believers.
In the midst of this discussion, most of which took place after a motion to approve the plan was made and seconded, a new surprise was revealed. This was the SRWMD Resolution Number 2018-05.
This resolution was not on the agenda and was introduced after a lengthy spiel by Board Member Don Quincey, which was an appeal for unity to solicit funding for the water plan.
Since this item is separate from the water plan and was sprung on the public with no warning and absolutely no input, OSFR objected.
Some board members confused it with the water plan and some called for a tabling for further consideration. After intervention by Executive Director Thomas, a vote was taken and it passed unanimously, in spite of hurried typos and changes in wording.
More discussion ensued on the motion in effect, and finally a vote was taken with the water plan passing by a vote of four to three.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-