A press release written by Ryan Smart of the Florida Springs Council with input from OSFR and the Ichetucknee Alliance is published here below. All of these organizations contacted the District recommending that the important meeting concerning the Nestle permit be moved to Live Oak and have the virtual meeting option.
Immediately following the press release is a statement from the Suwannee River Water Management District acceding to these recommendations with the meeting location changed to District headquarters in Live Oak and attendance now virtual.
This meeting, now in Live Oak on Feb. 23 and maybe also 24 if required, is the time for everyone to speak up against this destructive, unnecessary permit and tell the Board members how you feel. Note the instructions and the link for public comment. This may be our last shot before the vote, so please plan to participate if you are at all able.
We have just learned that the SRWMD Governing Board will vote on the permit at the special meeting.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
For Immediate Release
February 8, 2021
Contacts: Mike Roth, [email protected], 352-316-4705
Ryan Smart, [email protected], 561-358-7191
Suwannee River Water Management District Prohibits Virtual Public Comments for Final Vote on Seven Springs/Nestle Permit
District seeks to silence the public by requiring in-person attendance after allowing virtual comments at every meeting since COVID-19 pandemic began.
Live Oak — The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) Governing Board, which has been allowing virtual public comments at all of their meetings since the beginning of the pandemic, has decided to hold an “in-person only” meeting at an indoor venue in Fanning Springs on February 23rd and 24th to decide the fate of the controversial Seven Springs/Nestle water consumptive use request.
On March 9th, 2020 the SRWMD issued Emergency Final Order 20-002 allowing for virtual participation in all public meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emergency Order states, “COVID-19 continues to pose an immediate danger to the public health, safety, or welfare…”
On January 4th, 2021, SRWMD Executive Director Hugh Thomas extended the Emergency Order allowing virtual public comments until February 27th due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From the date of the original Emergency Final Order until the consideration of the Seven Springs/Nestle Consumptive Use Permit the SRWMD has allowed virtual public comments at every public meeting. Faced with a decision that is certain to attract the greatest public interest and turnout of any meeting during that time, the District has chosen to strip the people of North Florida of the right to make virtual comments.
Our Santa Fe River President Mike Roth reached out to SRWMD Executive Director Hugh Thomas last week to request the District allow virtual public comments to protect the safety of OSFR members and the thousands of Floridians who oppose this permit and wish to have their voices heard.
According to Roth, “Already, more than 19,000 public comments have been submitted to the SRWMD regarding the Seven Springs/Nestle permit. However, it is unclear how many – if any – of those comments have been read by the Governing Board. The Special Meeting on February 23rd is the final chance for Floridians to speak, and be heard, about this water use permit that is clearly not in the public’s interest or in the best interest of the Santa Fe River.”
“It is the job of our state agencies to facilitate public participation in government, not suppress it,” said Ichetucknee Alliance President John Jopling. “Due to irresponsible water use permitting decisions and unsustainable water withdrawals the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe Rivers are already violating their adopted Minimum Flow and Level protections, yet the District continues to hand out water use permits that will increase pumping. The Governing Board must allow virtual public comments so they listen to the science and the people. Then they should vote against this permit.”
Florida Springs Council Executive Director Ryan Smart, whose organization has asked members to contact the SRWMD and demand virtual public comments, said, “The Governing Board is forcing the people they are supposed to serve to choose between their health and the health of the Santa Fe River. It is irresponsible and appalling behavior, and it is indicative of the Board’s hubris that has left North Florida’s waters depleted and impaired.”
On January 20th, 2021 Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Chisenhall rejected arguments made by the Suwannee River Water Management District and recommended that the District Governing Board approve the Seven Springs/Nestle Consumptive Use Permit. In his ruling, ALJ Chisenhall stated that Seven Springs could only bottle water at the adjacent High Springs bottling facility. If Seven Springs wishes to transport water to any other Nestle facility, including the bottling plant in Madison County, Seven Springs would need to apply for a permit modification. The ALJ’s ruling is only a recommendation. The final decision still rests in the hands of the District’s Governing Board. At the February 23rd and 24th Special Meeting the SRWMD Governing Board will decide whether to accept the ALJ’s recommended order.
Our Santa Fe River (www.oursantaferiver.org), an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to education, stewardship and advocacy for the Santa Fe River and its springs, has had representatives appeal to the District Board numerous times over the last two years, facilitated the delivery of 400,000 petitions directly to the Board (in addition to the roughly 19,000 online comments), and has written extensively about the dangers of overconsumption and pollution presented by the Seven Springs permit. Last summer, OSFR tried to join the administrative lawsuit both as participant and as intervenor to introduce science and public interest to the otherwise administrative-only arguments, but was rebuffed both times.
The Ichetucknee Alliance strongly supports the efforts of Our Santa Fe River to limit excessive pumping from the Floridan aquifer that can damage our area’s springs and rivers. Protection of the aquifer is one of the key missions of the Alliance as described on the website at ichetuckneealliance.org.
The Florida Springs Council is the only statewide advocacy group focused exclusively on protecting Florida’s springs and spring-fed rivers. FSC has worked extensively on issues affecting the Santa Fe River, including organizing a 2019 challenge to the Santa Fe River Basin Management Action Plan with Our Santa Fe River and Ichetucknee Alliance. You can find out more about FSC’s work at FloridaSpringsCouncil.org.