Young girl drinking a glass of water

Gulf Breeze News – December 17, 2020

Santa Rosa County Commissioners surprised a lot of people at their special rezoning meeting last Thursday by reversing the recommendation by the zoning board. The request coming through the county’s Planning and Zoning Department is to change the Comprehensive Plan language to allow extraction of clay and other natural resources from borrow pits. The argument against such action says the change is a threat to wellfield protection. The zoning board agreed, voting 7-1 to deny the change. The county commissioners voted 3-1 to accept the change and send it to the state for review.

The special rezoning meeting was five-plus hours, with three and a half hours of that in presentations, discussion and debate over the change in the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioners heard from both sides, with presentations showing the extraction would not hurt the water being provided to the entire south end and presentations showing how such action could threaten the wellfield.

Commissioner Colten Wright of Gulf Breeze said, after the lengthy discussion, “I don’t understand, after sitting here and listening all night to both sides, why we are talking about this. This is not just about water — it is about economics. We spend all this money trying to get large companies to come here and if anything goes wrong with our aquifer, it will destroy all economic growth and development for an entire region.”

Wright made the first motion, which was to deny the language change.
Commission Chair Dave Piech of Navarre agreed, explaining that he had worked with the military to protect wellfields and had to help supervise clean ups of contaminated wellfields.

“I have heard from the Gulf Breeze mayor, from Holley-Navarre Water, from all the south end utilities, as well as Holley By The Sea residents and a lot of other people in the south end concerned about this. I have to second this motion and agree with Commissioner Wright.” But that motion failed.
Commissioner Sam Parker of Pace asked several questions during the presentations. He said he also went to visit the pit in question who is asking for permission to extract resources.

“I was impressed with his precautions and process. I think by having pit owners come back to us before they can extract anything is an extra protection. I will vote to add protections by voting approval to send this to the state.”

Commissioner Bob Cole said when he voted originally a few years ago to put the wellfield protection in place he was not voting ever to stop personal property rights. He said since pit owners have to come back to the county commission to get permits to extract even after this language is changed, he thinks it will be protection enough.

Commissioner James Calkins said, “We have experts on both sides of this issue in the county. We are not the EPA. Shawn Ward said this would go to the state to have 10 to 12 agencies review it then come back to us for a second public hearing. I ran on property rights and less regulation.” Calkins made a motion to reverse the recommendation of the zoning board and approve the change in language, and send it to the state.

Calkins and Parker and Cole voted in favor, with Piech and Wright voting no. Ward said the state will review and send back comments and a second public hearing will be scheduled probably the end of January.

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