The following is an article which appears in today’s Feb. 17, 2017 Lake City Reporter about the county commissioners’ meeting last night where they voted to retain the land use regulations as they are. The regulations currently allow industrial agriculture on high recharge aquifer areas with virtually no required permits. OSFR will post its viewpoint on this meeting soon.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Proposed land use ordinance falls 5-0 By CARL MCKINNEY [email protected]
Agriculture industry lobbyists and local farmers came out on top over Fort White residents in a packed auditorium on Thursday night. A proposed ordinance to prevent high-concentration livestock facilities from operating near sensitive hydrological areas was shot down by the Columbia County Commission, after dozens of supporters and opponents of the initiative spoke out.
The regulation, which has been in the works since last March, would place operations that fit the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of a medium or large concentrated animal feeding operation under a land-use category requiring a special permit. The permit is almost automatically rejected if the facility will operate near aquifer recharge areas, according to County Attorney Joel Foreman.
Supporters said the measure would prevent industrial farming operations from polluting the Santa Fe River, while opponents, who heavily outnumbered supporters in the roughly 500-member crowd, said it violated the property rights of farmers and runs afoul of state law.
Commission Chairman Ron Williams invited supporters to speak first, cautioning the crowd to remain orderly. John Jopling, from the Ichetucknee Alliance, said the proposal was a reasonable and modest approach toward protecting springs that draws visitors from all over the world.
“This is not about being against agriculture,” he said. No freedom is absolute, he added, including farmers’ property rights. “All of our rights end when they infringe on the rights of others,” Jopling said.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, a Fort White resident representing the Sierra Club*, said the river and springs are vital to the town’s economy and her ecotourism business. She criticized the JTC Farms Poultry Complex on Wilson Springs Road, the reason the rule was proposed. “If you put that many chickens down by the springs, we will have problems with the aquifer,” she said.
Due to the state law exempting standard agriculture operations from needing county zoning permits for appropriately zoned areas, construction began without the commission’s knowledge. Malwitz-Jipson said she and other town residents were also left in the dark until the last minute. “No one told us what was going on until someone called me,” she said. The county’s planning and zoning advisory board voted to recommend the ordinance earlier this year as a response to the controversy.
On the opposition side, several representatives from local and statewide industry groups spoke out. Stephen Dicks, from the Columbia County Farm Bureau, said the regulation was not needed. “This ordinance is not about protecting the environment,” he said. “But an attempt to violate the personal property rights of our citizens.”
Mark Miller, from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm that represents farmers against “well-meaning” officials, said the ordinance would be in violation of a state law prohibiting local governments from interfering with or hindering agriculture.
According to Foreman, the county is only allowed to require permits for intensive-use agriculture, but can define that term how it sees fit. Miller also said property owners should not have to ask the county for permission to use their land for farming. “That struck me as somewhat un-American,” Miller said.
*Just a disclosure.