Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Land Development Regs on the Docket in Ft. White, Next Stop – The County 5

County Manager Ben Scott listens to the  group.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Residents from Columbia and Gilchrist counties were joined at the Fort White Library by County Manager Ben Scott to discuss the issues to be brought up at an upcoming workshop of the County 5. The sudden appearance last July of a million chicken industrial farming operation in Fort White precipitated community engagement to protect the environment, watershed, and quality of life. A workshop is scheduled for March 29 at 9 am to discuss possible changes to the land development regulations and ordinances in agricultural districts.

Meeting time for Workshop: It's Columbia County

This has been a contentious issue. The scheduling of the workshop at 9 am on March 29 during spring break has offended members of the community that are interested in attending, but can't because they will either be away with their families or have to work.

There have been charges and claims going back and forth about the scheduling of this meeting. The residents at the south end of the County preferred to have the meeting in Fort White, home of the Chicken Collision. However, the County has dug in and refused to accommodate them.

It is Columbia County. There has been much confusion. If the workshop was held in the south end of the County at a time when working families could attend, the County 5 could expect a reasonable turn out of concerned citizens.

The Meeting at the Library

On short notice, there was a good turnout.

Yesterday evening's meeting at the library was attended by a cross-section of Columbia County residents and non-residents, all who appreciate the quality of life of rural living. Residents, a farmer, river lovers, and just plain folk showed up to show an interest in protecting the environment and their quality of life.

County Manager Ben Scott attended the meeting. While the members of the County 5 were invited, none attended. The County Chair, Sylvester "Bucky" Nash, was out of town celebrating the birth of another grandchild.

Commissioner Rusty DePratter, who represents the area, was MIA. It is not clear if he was missing because of the misinformation bantered about by the County that commissioners could not participate in the community meeting.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson: Community Leader

Community leader and environmental activist, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

Shortly after the meeting kicked off, Our Santa Fe River's Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, a respected environmental activist, was selected to represent to the County 5 at the upcoming workshop what transpired at the library meeting and to articulate the concerns of the folks who attended the evening's gathering.

One of the attendees was worried about putting The 5 on the defensive. She said, "That's not our plan. Our plan is that there is a concern for our water quality and our rural nature." She was concerned about The 5 being offended by the speakers' tone of voice.

After the meeting, Laura Dailey told the Observer, "They shouldn't be worried about my tone of voice. They should be worried about the environment."

County Manager Scott explained some of the confusion regarding who could speak at the workshop. "When I asked Merrillee to be the spokesperson for the group, I didn't mean that everyone else couldn't have an opportunity to speak."

Farmer Rob Matterson on Groundwater Recharge

Mr. Matterson said, "You're talking about groundwater recharge and then you are talking about agricultural endeavors that may or may not affect groundwater recharge. You are mixing a couple of different ideas together. If you are talking about groundwater recharge and agricultural endeavors that affect it, that's one thing. But like a chicken coop, they haul the manure off. If you want to talk about an agricultural endeavor that has odors, that's a different issue."

Charles Trowbridge was concerned about Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operations (CAFO) and the affect of chicken waste on drinking water. He said that 22,000 chickens produce the same waste as 6,000 people.

Laura Dailey was concerned about other intensive agricultural land uses coming to the County. She said the County needs to pass ordinances.

Ms. Dailey mentioned that the County receives $23 million in tax revenue from recreation, part of which is our streams and rivers, but agriculture accounts for only a quarter of that.

Referring to the Chicken Collision she said, "Unless we get commissioners that are involved in the entire county these things are going to slide under their noses all the time."

Ms. Dailey concluded, "We have to have more voices. We have to have someone who speaks for the farmers; someone who speaks for the tourism industry."

Ms. Malwitz-Jipson added, "It is what I asked for initially."

Another attendee added, "I don't think the Florida DEP, or our Water Management District have anything in place, even though they spout water protection. That is the level of protection we are looking for."

Steve Gladin drove in from Gilchrist County. He told the gathering, "The counties have an opening to protect groundwater and springs. There are no Best Management Practices for poultry operations. That is a vacuum that the County is free to fill."

Laverne Hodge told the group she had experience writing ordinances and has been on both sides of the table. She said, "We need to have our chicken poop together. Let's be respectful, even though I don't have a lot of respect for our present (pause) -- I'm not talking about the County Commission. I get too emotional."

Ms. Hodge said she wanted Merrillee to speak for her and she didn't think the public should be allowed to speak at the workshop. She said the public would get its chance.

Wrapping It Up

County Manager Scott said County Attorney Joel Foreman is going to do some presentations for the County and Ms. Malwitz-Jipson was going to give a PowerPoint.

It is not clear what she will be presenting.

Ms. Malwitz-Jipson told Mr. Scott, "We need to have some sort of environmental protection. We are not there. We don't have that in this County. Look at us. Half the people in Lake City don't understand what this is down here."

Mr. Scott told the group that while he may not always agree with everyone, he respects the process.

Ms. Malwitz-Jipson thanked Mr. Scott for attending, "It means a lot to have you here."


The items the group presented at the meeting were summarized by Ms. Malwitz-Jipson: recharge; animal threshold; public notice; special exceptions, redefining what intensive (farming) means, "change waste and wastewater requirement. We don't know what that change means. We'd like it defined better."

The workshop remains scheduled in Lake City for March 29 at 9 am when most folks can't attend.

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