A water tower labeled East Milton Water System

WEAR-TV – January 26, 2021

Some Santa Rosa County residents fear their water supply could become contaminated if land owners are allowed to expand borrow pits.

County commissioners approved changing wording on an ordinance that would allow 27 existing pits to expand. But because these pits are in a designated well field area, which supplies water to about 100,000 people in east Milton and south Santa Rosa County, some worry the change could impact their water supply.

“In this sub-section of the sand and gravel aquifer we have a quicker rate of water through the soil, so we are a little more sensitive to how wide a capture zone for a particular well is,” said resident Kyle Holley. “When you’re developing land use regulations, you need some solid boundaries.”

The pits are currently being filled with vegetative debris. But, some residents also fear loosening the rules is just the first of what they believe are more threats to the water supply, such as filling the pits with something else.

“There are concerns about fertilizer; there are concerns about things just mixed in there,” said Holley. “And then in the more intense uses you can have construction and demolition debris which can really get to be a problem in these areas of sensitive soil.”

Commissioners who approved the change insist, their decision won’t change what will be allowed to go inside the pits.

“The only thing that can go into the pits right now is what’s permitted by DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection), which is trees, grass, weeds, top soil,” said Bob Cole, Santa Rosa County Commissioner. “I think there’s a lot of misconception. It’s not going to be dug all the way to the aquifer; it’s not going to be a new project in any sense of the word; and it’s not going to be a garbage dump.”

Commissioner Cole says the initial ordinance to protect against expansion was intended to prevent the areas from becoming garbage dumps, but not to restrict land owner rights.

“The well field is important to us all, our natural environment is important to us all,” said Cole. “But on the same token we’ve got to honor people’s development rights and property rights.”

Concerned citizens who use the two water systems that could be impacted — Fairpoint Regional Utility System and East Milton Water System — hope more discussions will happen and a compromise can be made.

“We’re talking about property rights, we have to also talk about water rights,” said Holley. “The water rights of 100,000 people. How does that balance against property rights of a few? But, there really is a chance for excellence here. It doesn’t have to be ‘pit versus water.’ There can be some co-existence with the existing sites. We just need to make sure that we’re protecting and extending the life of the natural resource.”

The proposal to allow for expansion is being reviewed by state agencies. Commissioners will then hold a required public hearing.

A date for that has yet to be set.