A board showing a map of borrow pits in Santa Rosa County on display at a County Commission meeting

Pensacola News-Journal – February 25, 2021

It’s official: Santa Rosa County Commissioners have pulled the plug on a controversial land use amendment that, had it forged on, could have threatened drinking water for nearly half of the county’s residents. 

The commissioners voted unanimously at Thursday night’s special rezoning meeting to deny the same comprehensive plan amendment they pushed through with a 3-2 vote at a Dec. 10, 2020, meeting. The amendment, which would have allowed borrow pits to expand in a protected water overlay district in East Milton, immediately sparked outcry amongst environmentalists, Realtors, water utility companies and more. 

District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole made the motion to withdraw the proposed text amendment within the first five minutes of the meeting, proposing to end the discussion on amending the comprehensive plan for good.  

Cole’s motion came with a caveat, though, that he still thought there should be “compromise” on the issue, particularly for the borrow pit owners who want to be able to expand their pits. 

“I just want everyone aware that I’d like to see us come to a better conclusion on this as far as the ability for some of these folks to expand in the future, but do it in a manner that’s more acceptable to everybody involved,” Cole said.

Although Commissioners James Calkins, Sam Parker and Cole approved the amendment back in December, the commissioners from the county’s three northern districts changed direction following the outcry.

Additionally, state agencies including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Northwest Florida Water Management District sent back comments to the county saying there wasn’t enough data and analysis to support changing the plan. They wanted more scientific research to be performed to make sure that allowing the borrow pits to expand wouldn’t harm the underground gravel aquifers that supply drinking water to the entire central and south end of the county.

With the comprehensive plan amendment now dead in the water, commissioners pledged to instead turn their efforts to actually expanding drinking water protections for the entire aquifer overlay area. 

Jerry Couey, who ran for the District 3 seat in last year’s election but came up short to Calkins, has been an outspoken critic of the proposed change. He called on commissioners to reverse their stance entirely.

“I want to see us expand our water protection across this county,” he said. “Without clean water there is no economic development, there is no tax base. It’s vitally important.”

Annie Blanks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8632.