Pipes at a well.

Gulf Breeze News – on November 25, 2020

Wellfield Protection will be a priority on the Santa Rosa County Commission’s special rezoning meeting Dec. 10, the first rezoning meeting for the newest county commissioners. The county’s zoning board voted 7-1 against changing the Comprehensive Plan to allow extraction of natural resources such as sand from the wellfield protection area that provides water to much of the county, including the south end.

The change to the Comprehensive Plan was brought to the county zoning board by Shawn Ward, planning director for the county. He said the request was a result of discussion coming out of the Land Development Code revisions.

He told board member members, “Right now, the Comprehensive Plan states that extraction of natural resources is prohibited within 500 feet of a potable water well and East Milton’s wellfield protection area. It is usually a four to six month process to remove a prohibition on extraction in or near a wellfield, and when you vote, then it will move on to the county commission, no matter how you vote. Then it would go to the state, if approved.”

When a member of the board questioned whether the prohibition was actually 1,000 feet from a wellfield protection area, Ward said it was.

He said any changes to the Comprehensive Plan takes state approval, while changes to the land Development Code are done locally.

Speakers lined up at the microphone for 45 minutes until the public forum was cut off by the board, with Will Dunaway being the first speaker and representing Holley- Navarre Water.

He said, “I am on the board of Holley- Navarre Water and also represent the other water systems under the Fairpoint Water System, and we are against this change to the Comp Plan. We talk about the Comp Plan as being our Constitution and the Land Development Code as being the statutes for implementation of the Comp Plan. Changing the Comp Plan is sacred to long term planning. Your predecessors put in place this protection, looking at long term protections of our water.”

Kyle Holley addressed the board saying, “I don’t like to see us considering a change to the Comp Plan in a meeting like this, looking at it the same way as changing an ordinance for a privacy fence. I do respect you as a board and appreciate many of the decisions you have been making. I do believe you are a board that understands the importance of water to our economic development. For us who are pro-economic development, our position is not to amend the Comprehensive Plan with this amendment.”

Mark Miller of Navarre, who is also on the board of the Holley-Navarre Water System, told the board, “We have at least 17,000 water taps in Navarre and service over 45,000 residences and businesses. This wellfield affects the entire south end’s water, as well as east Milton. We encourage you not to amend the Comp Plan with this request.”

Wallis Mahute, who has been fighting for wellfield protection and obtained and supervised a grant for the county for wellfield protection told the board, “I am asking you to go forward, not backward, in protecting our water. There was an enormous amount of time and effort in putting together this ordinance to protect our wellfield. We urge you to keep those protections in place.”

“Water is like gold,” Mahute said. “Please protect ours.”

The board reported receiving just over 200 emails on this subject, all against the change to the protection of the wellfield by allowing sand mines to extract sand from the wellfield. The report said that was the most number of emails ever sent to the zoning board on any issue.

Board member Margaret Nieman of District 5 said more than just the complaints related to extraction of sand was found in those emails.

“Those emails show we need 24-hour surveillance around those 10 barrow pits. There is information in many of the emails about evidence of middle of the night illegal dumping in those pits. We could use cameras or drones, but we need to do something. Some people wanted us to get rid of all pits, but that is not happening. We all want our houses built and other things done that require these pits to be there. So we need to put our heads together to find a way of enforcing these protections so the bad actors have consequences. But I am going to vote against the proposed changes to the Comp Plan and leave the words as they are currently in the plan.”

By Pam Brannon
Gulf Breeze News © 2020
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