Gulf Breeze News – December 31, 2020
Fairpoint Regional Utility System is opposing the removal of protective language in the Santa Rosa County Comprehensive Plan related to drinking water in the county. In a recent press release, FRUS – which is composed of Gulf Breeze/South Santa Rosa Utility System, Holley-Navarre Water System and Midway Water System — says it will use all available legal options to object to the recent proposed change submitted to the State Department of Economic Opportunity for review.
That amendment request was made by the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners as the result of a 3-2 vote, with commissioners from the south end of the county opposing the change.
FRUS issued a press release explaining the commission’s action.
“In August, the BCC directed staff to draft an amendment to the comprehensive plan removing protections and allowing the extraction of natural resources within the wellfield protection area for the purpose of allowing the expansion of borrow pits. This direction was not based on any data or analysis that such a change was warranted or in the public’s best interest. Rather, the change was requested by a single Commissioner based on a request of a single land owner wanting to expand his dirt extraction operation onto land he purchased after the wellfield protections were enacted by the BCC. These protections exist based on an EPA funded study which demonstrates that the protections are in the public’s best interest for the protection of drinking water supply.
“All public meetings on this subject were attended by the City of Gulf Breeze, South Santa Rosa Utility System, Midway Water System, and Holley Navarre Water System, who are the collective owners of the Fairpoint Regional Utility System, representing water customers in south Santa Rosa County. All of the member utilities oppose the action.
“The Santa Rosa County Zoning Board recommended against removing protections from the wellfield protection district by a vote of 7-1. The BCC voted contrary to its own zoning board and its own environmental studies and approved by a 3-2 vote the removal of protections established in 2013 for the East Milton Area Wellfield Protection District, which protects the 12 present and future wells which serve 86,000 residents and businesses from contamination.
“A Comprehensive Plan is required by law as the guiding document for all land use regulations and must comport with state and federal law. Generally, the Comp Plan is the long range planning tool for the county to determine its priorities for land use. This plan amendment to remove wellfield protections is for the exclusive benefit of a landowner special interest who was not required to make an individual application requesting the change.”
The BCC vote to transmit the proposed text change to the DEO was taken on Dec. 10. FRUS’ member utilities began immediate discussion with their boards and in FRUS meetings to challenge the action.
The press release explains that FRUS will appeal to the DEO to reject the county’s proposed comprehensive plan amendment and if that request is refused, FRUS will, once again, appeal before the BCC at the adoption hearing to oppose the change. Should the BCC adopt the change despite opposition, FRUS will file a petition with the Department of Administrative Hearings and force the County to “prove, if it can, why it is in the best interests of the citizens to remove protections in the Comp Plan aimed at protecting the drinking water in the County.”
Tom Naile, mayor pro tem of Gulf Breeze and a member of the FRUS board, says, “Any contamination of those wells could be extremely damaging to the south end of the county. There’s not much redundancy in this system. I hope this doesn’t become a pattern of 60 percent of this new BCC catering to the individual at the expense of the public good.”
Commissioners who supported the amendment that FRUS says would remove vital protections to the water supply include Bob Cole, Sam Parker and James Calkins. Those opposing were Dave Piech of Navarre and Colten Wright of Gulf Breeze.
Will Dunaway, Environmental Attorney at the Clark Partington firm, tells Gulf Breeze News, “All of the clean drinking water for every residence and business in south Santa Rosa County comes from the wells within the East Milton Wellfield Protection Area and the infrastructure costs invested in those wells is over $20,000,000 to date. This is why the Fairpoint Regional Utility System (FRUS) Board is committed to preserving the land use controls enacted a decade ago following extensive data collection and analysis to protect the East Milton Wellfield Protection Area.
“The FRUS Board urges citizens to let their Commissioner know these protections are needed. We need at least one of the three Commissioners who voted to transmit this proposed change to DEO to change his vote and not adopt the proposed change to eliminate drinking water protections in the Comp Plan.
“If the Commissioners do vote to eliminate the drinking water protections in the Comp Plan, then the FRUS Board will file a legal challenge to overturn the action. The FRUS Board is confident it will prevail in its legal challenge because this Comp Plan change is not based on the required data and analysis that shows the protections are now not needed, but rather the vote to adopt the change to eliminate the protections could potentially jeopardize the economic health of the entire south end of the County for the short-term financial gain of one land owner who purchased his property knowing these Comp Plan protections were in place. Here the needs of the many truly outweigh the desires of the few or, as in this case, the one.“
Contact Santa Rosa County Commissioners
Email Sam Parker at [email protected]
Email Bob Cole at [email protected]
Email James Calkins at [email protected]
Email Colten Wright at [email protected]
Email Dave Piech at [email protected]
By Glenda Caudle
Gulf Breeze News© 2020