Update 2019-03-17: Valdosta has agreed to meet with the dozen downstream Florida counties, elected officials to elected officials, 6PM, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at Valdosta City Hall Annex, and “the public will have an opportunity to speak.”
A dozen downstream Florida counties want to meet with the Valdosta City Council, elected officials to elected officials, to present a resolution they passed urging the states of Florida and Georgia to do something about Valdosta’s sewage, and to discuss raising funds to help Valdosta fix its sewage infrastructure, so the Florida counties can restore their eco-tourism on the Withlacoochee, Alapaha, Suwannee, and Santa Fe Rivers. Restoring eco-tourism came up again and again. It’s not just the actual sewage, which never gets to Taylor or Alachua Counties. It’s the stigma of sewage in the rivers. Fixing Valdosta’s spills and regular testing to find other sources are needed.
Valdosta said no. So delegates from all dozen counties are going to come to the March 21, 2019, Valdosta City Council Regular Session and speak in Citizens to Be Heard, three minutes each, some time after 5:30 PM that Thursday evening.
Movie: Approval of Resolution (115M) Task Force, clockwise from front: Scott R. Koons (NCFRPC), Ken Cornell (Alachua County), Anthony Adams (Lafayette County), Don Hale (Suwannee County), Gene Higginbotham (Dixie County), Kenrick Thomas (Gilchrist County), Danny Riddick (Bradford County), Thomas Demps (Taylor County), Beth Burnam (Hamilton County), Rick Davis (Chair, Madison County)
Apparently Valdosta told them that Valdosta doesn’t do workshops or joint meetings, which is curious, since Valdosta’s city council members a month earlier met with council members from all the other Lowndes County cities and the Lowndes County Commissioners about their Service Delivery Strategy, which includes wastewater. Last year, members of Valdosta Mayor and Council met with elected officials from other cities and counties throughout Central south Georgia T-SPLOST Region 11. Maybe it’s a state line thing. But back in 2015, the Valdosta Mayor, at least one Council member, the Utilities Director, etc. met with people from Florida about Valdosta wastewater, at WWALS’ request. So Valdosta’s refusal to hold a workshop with the downstream Florida counties is curious.
More came up in this meeting, including Florida SB 1100 that authorizes water well testing by the Florida Department of Health. Maybe there’s still time for a bill to fund more frequent and closer-spaced river water testing, as well.
Below are links to each WWALS video of the meeting, with a few notes, followed by a WWALS video playlist. See also Georgia Sewage Spill Reports from GA-EPD, collected and analyzed by WWALS in wwals.net/issues/vww/ga-spills/.
Waiting for quorum
Invocation and Pledge
Approval of Minutes
Approval of Resolution
Distribution of Resolution
Video. The North Central Florida Regional Planning Commission (NCFRPC) will distribute the resolution to the counties and other relevant parties.
About FDEP Sec. Noah Valenstein
SRWMD Board Meeting report –Tom Mirti
Center Table, foreground to back: John S. Quarterman (Suwannee Riverkeeper, behind camera), Darlene Velez (Water Resources Chief, SRWMD), Tom Mirti (Water Resource Director, SRWMD), Dan Harley (Rep. Chuck Brannan).
Visiting Valdosta City Council
Video. Scott R. Koons said he tried to schedule a meeting with the Valdosta City Council to discuss with them, elected officials to elected officials. The City Clerk and City Manager said that was not possible, but they could come speak in Citizens to Be heard, three minutes each, or they chould get fifteen minutes on the agenda for a Work Session. The Task Force chose to go to the March 21, 2019, Regular Session and to speak in Citizens to Be Heard. Anthony Adams, Lafayette County Commissioner, appeared to summarize the sentiment of the Task Force:
“To play a game like that. That’s ridiculous That’s poor. That’s disrespectful.”
Front row, right to left: Ashley Cook (Sen. Marco Rubio), Joshua Gabel (Sen. Marco Rubio), Brian Kauffman (Madison County Coordinator), Ben Scott (Columbia County Manager), Chris Doolin (Small County Coalition).
Back Row, left to right: Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson (citizen, Columbia County, Santa Fe River), Kristin Rubin (citizen, Alachua County, Santa Fe River), Jimmy Norris (Suwannee County Economic Development Office), Savannah Reams (Greene Publishing).
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and I added some context from the January Valdosta City Council meeting at which we both spoke, noting there are sympathetic ears on the Valdosta City Council, and if enough council members want an agenda item, there will be one. I don’t know how many members it would take.
Chair Rick Davis asked Sen. Rubio’s staffers to see if his office could help facilitate things.
Columbia County Manager Ben Scott wanted to know when they went to Valdosta, what is the ask? He also suggested talking to GA-EPD and the two governors’ offices.
Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell said the ask is for a workshop.
Notification of Spills
Video. Rick Scott noted funding will be a big issue for Valdosta.
He asked whether the SRWMD or the Health Department could get timely notification. He said he thought they had agreement from when Madison County met with Valdosta’s City Manager and Utilities Director in December that Valdosta would notify Madison County.
Hamilton County Commissioner Beth Burnham said it was no more trouble to set up an email list to go to each county than to just a few.
I mentioned the March 15-16 Valdosta City Council retreat.
I said that for years I asked Valdosta to timely notify and got blindsided again and again and again. Fortunately, that’s not an issue any more, because Valdosta is required to notify the state of Georgia, and now GA-EPD posts Sewage Spill Reports each business day; see wwals.net/issues/vww/ga-spills/. I handed out a sheet (see PDF and the images below) with on one side all Valdosta’s spills for 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, and on the other all spills reported in the state of Georgia in the first three days of December 2018, when Valdosta spilled more locations than the rest of the state. Various Commissioners studied that sheet and asked questions about it later.
I noted that the catch basin is a great idea that should be done, but that would account for only 2/3 of the spills in December.
You can now find out when Valdosta or anybody spills; you don’t have to wait for them to tell you; see wwals.net/issues/vww/ga-spills/.
Itinerary to Valdosta
Video. They discussed how to get there and what to say.
City resolutions and funding bills
Video. Brian Kauffman, Madison County Coordinator, said one thing they wanted to meet with Valdosta about was getting funding from the state of Florida to help fix their problems.
Thomas Demps, Taylor County Commissioner, noted that there had in past years been talk of piping water from the Suwannee River to counties to the south. He didn’t think those counties would want polluted water, so maybe they should help.
FL SB 1100 authorizes water well testing by FDOH
Video. Bradford County Commissioner Danny Riddick discussed SB 1100: Water Testing for Pollution. It was introduced February 22, 2019, by Florida Senator Bill Montford (District 3, including Hamilton, Madison, and Taylor Counties), and is currently in the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources; Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.
Merrillee wondered what the tests would cover? Hamilton County Commissioner Beth Burnham asked Tom Moffses of (FDOH Hamilton and Columbia Counties), who asked Bob Vincent (FDOH Tallahassee), who said no plan had been vetted by the governor’s office yet, but they did test for a wide variety of chemicals, including PFAS from the Ocala Fire College. The bill would cover all those things, and would force FDOH to expand with quite a few more people, more lab equipment, and a bigger budget. He summed up, “We’ve told them that. We don’t know what will happen next.”
Communications with Valdosta
Next meeting and U.S. CWA
Video. Rob ?, Regional Planning Council, said the four Senators from Florida and Georgia should be able to help with enforcing the federal Clean Water Act. Ashley Cook of Senator Marco Rubio’s office said there were contacts already in project. Dan Harley of the office of Rep. Chuck Brannan asked to sign onto the resolution, and said they had been in touch with U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, who was supportive.
Here’s a LAKE video playlist:
Videos: Florida Rivers Task Force about Valdosta Wastewater 2019-02-28
Video by John S. Quarterman for WWALS Watershed Coalition (WWALS), Lake City, Florida
There are a few more pictures of this meeting on the WWALS website.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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