Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Chicken Shit Not Our Problem, Land Rights Are – Two yrs in the Works, Water Regs Voted Down

Ag folk came from all over Florida to talk about Columbia County's proposed ag/water/land regs.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Thursday night's meeting of the Columbia County 5 played to a packed house at the school board administration building. On the evening's docket was a change to the County's Land Development Regulations which would have added a definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and redefined the definitions of intensive agriculture and intensive agricultural development.

Thursday night's parking lot told the story with a handful of Priuses and small economy cars lost in a sea of dually and single axle diesel engine pickup trucks parked all over and overflowing onto the lawns and local side streets. Farmers and Ag groups representing farmers came from all over Florida to speak against the proposed changes.

The Changes to the Ordinance

The proposed ordinance is here. County wizards made sure the changes couldn't be found or just left them out.

The changes amounted to only a handful of words which were indiscernible in the proposed County ordinance.

When your reporter began covering the County 5 in 2006 there was complaint after complaint that it was impossible to spot changes in amended county ordinances, rules, regulations or anything that was amended, as the County fathers refused to underline and strikethrough the changes so that the public knew what was going on.

For awhile they did it, but recently, with the change of the County Manager, County Attorney, County Planner (all inexperienced to relatively experienced) and a new Commissioner, who believes that people that question government officials and ask for public records are "trouble makers," the County has fallen backwards. It was impossible to discern the changes in the proposed ordinance.

Proposed to be added was the following [underline and strikethrough added by the Observer]:

... Intensive agriculture means those farming and agricultural operations or uses requiring an industrial waste or wastewater permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation Protection or any proposed or actual land use as a “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation” as defined in these Land Development Regulations ...

... Intensive agricultural development means ... or any proposed or actual land use as a “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation” as defined in these Land Development Regulations.

The following language was supposed to be added to Section 2.1 of the ordinance:

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation shall have the same meaning as provided by promulgated rule of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 40 CFR 122.23, as amended, and shall include Medium and Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations as therein defined.

It wasn't.

Explanations of the proposed ordinance were inadequate and no one read the title of the ordinance into the record as is required.

Before the public hearing opened, veteran County Commissioner Ronald Williams announced: "If you are for or against the ordinance you need to stand, raise your right hand, and be sworn in."

This was not required and the County's elected County Attorney did not speak up and advise the public that they could speak if they didn't take an oath.


Beginning in July of 2015, it was discovered that a chicken CAFO was under construction in the Fort White area of Columbia County, a high aquifer recharge area and close to the Sante Fe River. The issues concerning the chicken CAFO (Agribusiness vs. Rural Living & a River
A Chicken-Collision
) in the Fort White area of the County came to light and have been well documented.

Other issues concerned odors and an increase in truck traffic on the County's country roads in and around areas of the local schools.

Presently, it is not clear if the Fort White Town Council or the School District has inquired of JT Farms regarding local issues of concern.

The Public Hearing: the Environmentalists
Out Gunned, Out Smarted, Out Politicked

Diving in the Floridan Aquifer                                                                   (Photo: Wes Skiles)

The regular contingent of local environmentalists came to the microphone to speak for the ordinance. Their main concern was too much chicken shit in a high recharge area over the aquifer, with the resulting pollution of the aquifer and the nearby Santa Fe River. They were looking for an intelligent, long range solution to what they saw as an ongoing problem. They said they weren't' looking to infringe on anyone's rights, but they didn't want the area's environment to be overlooked.

The Public Hearing: the Ag Folk
Organized, Prepared, Politically Savvy

One by one the Ag Folk came to the microphone.

County 5 Chairman Ron Williams had a list and a script. He called the Ag Folk to the microphone one by one and one by one they came, talking farmer's land rights; the problems with the ordinance; the illegality of the ordinance; you're going to be sued if you enact this ordinance; we don't need the ordinance, and "Why can't we just get along?" without the ordinance.

Jeff Handley

Jeff Handley, the executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen's Association, articulated most of the points that the Ag Folk agreed upon. He introduced himself. His comments are abridged:

"I think we are in our 83rd year. We are comprised of about 5000 families that make their living on land all across the state. Most of our members are multi-generational farms. We ask that you base your decision on science and not on emotion. The caretakers of this land have been the farmers and ranchers. There is a long history of folks taking care of the land, the woods, the wildlife, the endangered species, and the water for a long, long time."

"We've had cows in Florida for almost 500 years. We are hugely concerned that this is a government overreach. That this is an infringement on private property rights. That is going to cost people money. There is a system in place that works quite well. Folks can't just do things. I think this will be aggressively challenged -- legally if you move forward and pass it."

Mr. Handley continued: "There's always been about 1 million cows in the state of Florida. Right now the Census says 940,000. When we had 940,000 cows and 3 million people we didn't have a problem. Right now we have 940,000 cows and 20 million people. It seems to be the cows' fault that we have water issues. (Everyone laughed)"

The Columbia County 5
It Had the Last Word, Almost [remarks abridged and as spoken]

The County's newest commissioner, Tim Murphy spoke first. Mr. Murphy gave his characterization of what happened two years ago. "It wasn't a problem at the time in relevance to too many chickens, too many this. It ended up being in a place – overpopulated – truth is basically nobody paid attention to it. It happened. It is what it is... We're approachin' this thing from the wrong end. I'm tired of regulations."

Commissioner Everett Phillips, a former County employee told the Board, "We need our water."

Commissioner Sylvester "Bucky" Nash told the Board, "I'm about less government, but water is important. Land rights are important. Is this a starting point? I don't know if it is. I heard everybody and I agree pretty much with everybody. You have water -- you have land rights."

Commissioner Rusty DePratter was taking notes, "You know, when Mr. Foreman started I wrote down what he said. 'This board instructed him. We'd like to know.' I don't think this board instructed anybody to go where we went. We just got on that way goin' through the process of the law. It's back to us now. I'm for protecting the rivers. But I'm for not taking property rights from anybody for anything." 

Chairman Ronald Williams spoke last but then had a surprise, "I'm an old country boy. I think it is very important that we honor property rights. The hardest thing I do sittin' on these boards for almost 40 years is tellin' somebody what they can or cannot do with property."

Enter Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam

The Dept. of Ag letter to Adam Putman is here.

Commissioner Williams continued, "I sent a letter with a copy of this ordinance to the Florida Department of Agriculture. (The senior attorney for the Department of Agriculture returned an opinion. The opinion was addressed to Adam Putnam.)

Commissioner Williams continued, "I was told and here it is in black and white (holding up the letter) that the adoption of this ordinance is a violation of Florida stature." [163.3162(3)(a)]

Neither the public nor the County Attorney was given a copy of the opinion, although a confidential source has advised the Observer that the County Attorney did obtain a copy of the letter before the meeting.

The Vote

The 5 unanimously rejected the changes to the County's Land Development regulations.

The Rest of the Meeting

After the water item, only a handful were left watching the store.

Everybody left. Three residents were left watching the County do its business.

As the meeting concluded, County Attorney Foreman took exception to Commissioner Williams going off on his own to the Dept. of Ag.

Commissioner Williams told County Attorney Foreman that he would get opinions if he wanted and Mr. Foreman wasn't going to tell him what to do.

On Friday, County Attorney Foreman advised the County 5 that if they go behind him they are violating the special session laws of Florida.


Columbia County:  the legend continues.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)


Posted Feb. 22, 2017, a Lake City resident wrote:

I was appalled and dismayed at the conduct of Ron Williams, Chair of CCBC on Thursday night.

There was NO reason to shout nor did Mr. Williams fully listen to County Attorney Forman's comment concerning what Mr. Forman had been instructed in comparison to Adam Putman's Office.

Further, the agenda was poorly planned. The room full of agriculture and environmental proponents apparently are not interested in the actual functioning of county government for all left after the CCBC voted.

The fact that both groups had not previously discussed or met to solve the water and land use would have prevented such animosity as well as a review of the Florida Statutes several years prior to this vote in addition to the permitting of the CAFO  could have been resolved prior to JT Farms Chicken Operation.

Personally,  my logic is thus:  without adequate, clean, potable water, the farming - animal and crops - ability is mute for animals will not survive nor will crops grow.  


Posted Feb. 22, 2017, a Columbia County resident wrote:

F#&%ING FARM BUREAU, and their "suits." Scarlett Frisina's big payback for getting voted off the commission! Brought in her big gun buddies to show US who has the power in Columbia County.

Like scared dogs, they tucked their tails between their legs & voted against their own best interests, because the suits threatened to sue! Gutless damned cowards, every one of them!! I'm outta FL, in the next two years...sooner, if I can get this beautiful lil' spot ready to put on the market.

I can't stand it....our SCROTUS (so called ruler of the United States) has emboldened every whack job in the country to ban together and destroy this beautiful place!!!

Panama looks better every day! Can't wait to see the spin the newspaper puts on THIS fiasco!


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