It was surprisingly interactive meeting, with the Board members repeatedly questioning staff about multiple projects, sometimes taking up points raised from the audience. One Board Member even stopped a project. Yet half the rump board was not visible, being on the telephone, and the Budget Public Hearing may or may not have been legal.
Nestlé Water Withdrawal Permits
At the rescheduled September SRWMD Board meeting, OSFR President Mike Roth questioned the validity of the permitting process for Nestlé’s proposed 1.2 million gallon per day water withdrawal from Ginnie Springs on the Santa Fe River, since the actual application is from Seven Springs, which proposes to sell the water to Nestlé, which is not a use authorized by Florida Statutes.
I seconded that, and added that the SRWMD Board should revisit Nestlé’s permit for water withdrawal at Madison Blue Springs on the Withlacoochee River, since Florida Statutes to authorize them to do that.
Afterwards, SRWMD’s Tom Mirti told me the $70,000 contract with SRWMD for Nestlé to support springs water quality monitoring is required by the Nestlé permit for Madison Blue Spring, even though it has to be negotiated separately. Apparently yet another open records request is needed.
Invisible and Missing Board Members
Theoretically six SRWMD Board Members were present, which is a quorum. However, three of them were invisible on the phone, which failed several times, including once when Chair Virginia H. Johns called a brief recess to get it working again, and Donald J. Quincey, Jr. often did not respond even when the connection was working. One of the reappointed board members, Richard Schwab, Coastal River Basin, and once again Secretary/Treasurer, was even sworn in over the telephone, which is something I’ve never heard of before. The other telephone attendee was Gary F. Jones, At Large.
The other reappointee, Charles Keith, At Large, was present, and I welcomed him back, along with greeting Chair Johns, At Large, and Board Member Virginia Sanchez, At Large, who were also sitting up front.
Three seats remain empty, for the Upper Suwannee Basin including the Alapaha and Withlacoochee Rivers (the governor rescinded Alphonas Alexander’s appointment), for the Santa Fe & Waccassa Basins (Kevin W. Brown’s previous appointment timed out after 180 days), and for the Aucilla Basin (Bradley Williams also timed out). WWALS has recommended Dennis J. Price for the Upper Suwannee Basin seat, and Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson for the Santa Fe & Waccassa Basins seat. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has had more than 180 days to make such appointments. I wonder when he will?
For the Pilgrim’s Pride proposed permit renewal, I pointed out several of the new wells were even closer to the sinkholes to the east. Afterwards, I thanked the three
All three Board Members present in the room asked questions about the Pilgrim’s Pride permit, including I think it was Charles Keith who asked about the sinkholes. I thanked them for that, saying I wish there had been more questions earlier, and even though the approved the permit anyway.
A parade of city and county representatives up and down the District thanked the Board for approving the Cost-Share Program.
I did not bring a video camera this time, so I hope the District recorded the names and affiliations of the speakers.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson pointed out that these projects mostly did not involve water withdrawals, unlike Nestlé.
I asked for more water quality monitoring. Afterwards, Tom Mirti told me SRWMD is limited in how much of that it can do by its staffing level, which is set by FDEP. So I guess I’ll take that up with FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.
Fanning Springs Phase VI
Board Member Virginia Sanchez said, “Locals do not want this project, and I’m one of them.”
This Fanning Springs Phase VI is a $3.354 million project, almost all of which would come from an FDEP grant. That grant was a topic of discussion, because, as Sanchez said, SRWMD does not want to send that money back to FDEP. So they will negotiate some solution, maybe a delay, it wasn’t clear to me.
The $15 M project is planned to be funded over 3 consecutive cycles. The first year will be to buy land, design the master plan, design & permit a 0.4 MGD Regional AWTF and construct an interim sludge processing facility and convert 18 OSTDS in Area 10B. Future requests are: Year 2 bids and starts construction of the AWTF . Year 3 completes construction. The AWT will have a constructed wetland treatment/aquifer recharge for effluent disposal. This will be master planned for an overall capacity of 0.8 MGD.
AWT – Advanced Waste Treatment
AWTF – Advance Waste Treatment Facility
It was a pleasure to thank Virginia Sanchez for actually stopping an unproven project.
Sustainable Suwannee Springs Program
This pilot program claims 25-50% potential nitrogen reductions.
That’s a good thing if they can do it.
Multiple people questioned the legitimacy of the Public Hearing, including Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson wondering why SRWMD repeated everything from the previous week’s Public Hearing (at which she was one of the few witnesses) if this one was a continuation.
The best critique was by Stew Lilker, Columbia County Observer, 25 September 2019, Governor DeSantis Left SRWMD Holding the Bag: Dept. of Revenue Ran Cover for the Governor.
To summarize: was the so-called Public Hearing the week before legal, since only the Board can convene a Public Hearing, and there was no board quorum? Was the so-called “continuation” this time of that same Public Hearing legal, given that the one the preceding week may not have been legal? If the one this time was actually the first Public Hearing, why did they start over and repeat everything they did last time? The District’s attorney Tommy Reeves, after much prodding by Stew Lilker, claimed, if I heard him correctly, that one of the other of these Public Hearings was legitimate, and Chair Johns said District would provide proof of adequate Public Notice.
I don’t know whose truck this is, but the governor leaving the SRWMD Board 1/3 empty does nothing to dispel this sentiment:
The three visible Board Members stopped to talk to several of us after the meeting. I agree with them that they didn’t cause this situation. Sure, they could do better with their existing positions. But it sure would help if the Governor would finish filling the Board, and this time with some people with broader experience than the duplicative backgrounds now on the Board.
Also notice all the At Large seats are now filled. Two of the three vacant seats, for the Upper Suwannee Basin and Santa Fe & Waccassa Basins, are where most of the population in the Suwannee River Basin resides. So the current SRWMD board is not only un-elected, it is not representative, not even by population covered, much less by experience of board members.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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