Merrillee Asks Council to Protect the SFR


On Feb. 25, 2016 the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council met in Lake City and had as their guest speaker Noah Valenstein, who is the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District.

Columbia County is represented on that council by Commissioner Scarlett Frisina, who was present.  Three members of OSFR were in attendance, and Policy Director Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson addressed the group with her concerns about the impending phosphate mine to be located on the Santa Fe River in Union and Bradford Counties and reiterated her concerns about the chicken factory near the Santa Fe River outside of the town of Fort White.

An Area of Critical State Concern enjoys special state protection due to its designation.  The title falls under the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and is one of the Comprehensive Plans of the state, and is found in Chapter 380, Part I, the Environmental Land and water Management Act which authorizes Developments of Regional Impact and Areas of Critical State Concern.

The state land planning agency recommends to the Administration Commission any specific Area of Critical Concern, usually environmentally endangered lands, which includes dangers that would result from uncontrolled or inadequate development.  The actions to remedy this must be generated by local government and regional agencies, one of which most certainly is the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council.  The ground zero local government appropriately might be the Union and Bradford County Commissions, which would transmit a land use plan to the Regional Planning  Council, and on up, to perhaps include the Suwannee River Water Management District, and the DEP.

This is a lofty request from OSFR as it is understood that there has no been an issuance of an Area of Critical State Concern since prior to the Growth Management Plan of 1985.  This Act updates earlier acts including the 1975 Local Government Comprehensive Planning Act and the 1984 State Comprehensive Act.  OSFR was told that this latest act, officially called the l985 Local Government Comprehensive Planning and Land Development Regulation Act supersedes the Area of Critical State Concern designation and none has been issued since 1973.

The 1985 Act establishes the right for citizens and adjacent local governments to have legal standing to challenge plans and amendments.  That act requires that all plans be financially feasible and that the plans include a concurrency management system, which ensures that the infrastructure needed to support development is available when the impacts of the development occur.  This shows the need for an Economic Feasibility Study to prove the above requirement.

The proposed phosphate mine operation is an issue of grave concern because the plan calls for over 15 square miles of mine, straddling New River, a tributary of the Santa Fe, and adjacent to the banks of the Santa Fe.  The operation entails stripping the earth to a depth of 20 to 30 feet, displacing and totally destroying all vegetation, trees, swampland, springs, creeks, archaeological sites, and wildlife, and re-arranging the natural drainage system.

This process is fraught with dangers from radon gas, radioactivity, and run-off pollution into what would be left (if anything) of New River, directly into the Santa Fe.  Land reclamation would be promised by the company, but it would take generations and it most definitely would never be the same.  This should not be allowed due to the great risk of damage to the river, already designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway.   Your organization and others are hard at work to address this issue.

An second issue of concern by OSFR and our area is that of the JTC Chicken operation.  This matter was addressed by Charles Trowbridge of Fort White, who outlined the dangers of concentrated animal farming operations (CAFOs) to the council.

This post approved by MBWE

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