Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Moving Forward to Protect Its Springs, Rivers, Lakes, Drinking Water & Rural Quality of Life 

Diving in the Floridan Aquifer                                                                   (Photo: Wes Skiles)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Despite being scheduled during Spring Break and during a time when working families could not attend and participate, yesterday morning's workshop to discuss the future of Columbia County's springs, rivers, lakes, drinking water, and rural quality of life was attended by about a dozen concerned citizens. The conversation was productive and Columbia County is on the way to keeping industrial, or factory farming, off the top of the high recharge area of the Floridan Aquifer.


Our Santa Fe River's Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum listen to County Attny Joel Foreman as reporter Tony Britt takes notes.

Yesterday morning's workshop was precipitated by the sudden appearance of a factory chicken operation or Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operation (CAFO) in the Fort White area, an area generally consisting of residential agriculture plots and homesteads of 5 to 10 acres and some larger small family farms. A mile down the road to the east is a public school, library, and some small shops; the other way lays Three Rivers Estates, a large residential subdivision, which according to some in the real estate business has seen property sales deteriorate to ground zero with the appearance of the industrial chicken facility.

The industrial chicken facility is located on top of the high recharge area of the Floridan Aquifer, the place everyone's drinking water comes from.

Community opposition, outrage, demonstrations, and meetings were finally a wake-up call for the Columbia County 5, which held yesterday's first official meeting dedicated to facing the issues of the aquifer recharge and intensive agriculture in Columbia County.

"We need to change the definition": Joel Foreman

County Attorney Joel Foreman, the only popularly elected county attorney in Florida, found himself in a wedge: on one side, the folks that put him into office were demanding change and on the other side, a County Commission which is not used to listening to the people and doing things the way it's always been done in Columbia County: in the shadows and under the cover of darkness.

The Meeting

During the meeting County Attorney Foreman kept reminding The 5, "You've got to tell me what to do."

He told The 5, "Where you are right now is you have to amend the LDRs (Land Development Regulations) – the permitting issues. You need to change the definition of intensive agriculture."

Mr. Foreman explained that the County Building Department has been giving "verbal exemptions" to building in agricultural districts. He advised The 5 that folks "need to come in and file an affidavit stating that they are involved in agriculture."

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, the policy director of Our Santa Fe River, told The 5, "I'd like to hear how this is going to be addressed in terms of our needs down by the rivers and streams."

Mr. Foreman told The 5, "Manatee County has a good process."

Colette Jacono addressed the County 5.

Mr. Foreman said, "If you change the definition of intensive agriculture to be more expansive you are effectively going to knock intensive agriculture out of all AG 3 and ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Areas) within that high recharge area."

Columbia County resident, Colette Jacono, told The 5, "Mr. Foreman made some excellent suggestions that addressed much of this, especially with the suggestion of an application for intensive use and addressing what intensive is. I would like to see his suggestions written in an outline. Then as the board and citizens go through those we can discuss how we can start making those changes."

Sandra Smith

Long time Columbia County resident Sandra Smith addressed the definition of "Intensive Agriculture" and asked County Attorney Foreman about a time line for changing the definition in the LDRs.

Mr. Foreman responded, "The way that the definition section is set up Intensive Agricultural use is very narrowly defined. By broadening the definition you capture a lot more uses. If those uses are captured, then you will have all the procedural mechanisms in the Land Development Regulations."

Ms. Smith asked, "What is preventing you from doing that?"

Mr. Foreman explained that he needed direction from the County 5 to change the language.

Ms. Smith followed up, inquiring about a time line for the change.

Mr. Foreman answered, "It is up to the Board. It's not going to happen tomorrow. It's probably going to take a few months."

Steve Gladin

Steve Gladin, an environmentalist from Gilchrist County said, "We have the same problems with our Comprehensive Plan." He discussed some of the problems regarding unregulated waste (manure) removal.

Fort White resident, Laverne Hodge, told The 5, "What I would like from this commission is an affirmation of who it is that you are actually representing. Are you representing the people here? Or are you representing the businesses? That's what I want to know."

The issue of residential agricultural districts, areas where intensive agriculture would not be allowed, was brought up by your reporter, who is a Columbia County resident.

After the meeting, Mr. Foreman told your reporter, "I briefly discussed this with the County Planner. We like this idea and think it has possibilities. We will be looking into this."

Moving Forward: The County Attorney Reports

In a post meeting conversation, Mr. Foreman said that he thought hearing from the public was a good idea, "Town Hall style, where people can get up and talk – what can we do about this – what can we do about that?"

Mr. Foreman told your reporter that he will be speaking with Chairman Nash about keeping the public advised on his progress and soliciting public comments at the conclusion of his reports.

Mr. Foreman's thought is to add a section to the agenda, such as, "The County Attorney Reports." Mr. Foreman said this will keep everyone on the same page as progress is made, allow the public to be involved in the process, and will eliminate any issues with the Sunshine Law.


Late yesterday evening, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, told the Observer, "I'm grateful that the County Commission recognized that in Columbia County, Intensive Agriculture on top of high recharge areas over the Floridan Aquifer, the place where we get our drinking water and which feeds our springs, rivers and lakes, needs to be changed. I am encouraged."

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