Stew Lilker’s

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Fort White Backs Off Vote In Opposition of Seven Springs - Nestle Permit Renewal

Part II: Koberlein Law Firm Confuses the Issue

Fort White Town Council

FORT WHITE, FL – After hearing from those concerned: Seven Springs, Nestle, and the environmentalists, the Town Council got down to the business it was elected to do – decision making. The question: whether or not to resolve in opposition to the renewal of the Seven Springs water permit.

The Permit

The permit renewal, which needs to be approved by the Suwannee River Water Management District, would allow Seven Springs to pump from Ginnie Springs approximately 1.152 mil gallons a day. In 2016, bottled water accounted for 0.34% of the total estimated ground water used.

The River

In 2015, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Suwannee River Water Management District implemented a prevention and recovery strategy to help restore the quality of the river.

In 2019, the Florida Springs Institute wrote that the average flows in the springs and the entire Santa Fe River are down 30 to 40 percent.

The resolution states that over five-billion gallons of groundwater is being drawn from the Floridian aquifer every day and extraction at the current rate results in negative effects on the aquifer, wildlife, environment, and economic prosperity.

Click to read the Resolution

The Decision

The Town Council would vote to approve a resolution in opposition to the continued pumping of water by Seven Springs. This is the same resolution that was approved by Columbia County on October 3, 2019.

The County Resolution was a 12th hour addition to the agenda and barely a handful of people knew about it.

Councilman James Richardson asked if it was explained at the County if passing the resolution against the permit "would have some weight at the Water Management District?"

It was just advisory.

Councilman Richardson said, "I think we've done a better job of hearing everybody; this is the third time. Everybody knew it was advertised – an unbelievable turnout – all the people that care. I appreciate that."

The Fort White Town Council previously heard comments regarding the Seven Springs permit renewal on October 21 and November 25.

SRWMD graphic showing 2016 ground water usage
A graphic in one of the documents sent by the Water Management District to the Town earlier in the day before the meeting.

The permit renewal has been a hot button issue in the region for months and has been reported by the media across Florida and explanations and views regarding the Seven Springs permit were widely known and available.

Link to SRWMD Seven Springs-Nestle-fact-sheetMayor Ronnie Frazier asked if the Council had done its research, adding that he contacted the Suwannee River Water Management District earlier in the day.

As a result of that contact, the District's PR person, Katelyn Potter, sent over some information via email. The first time it was available to the Council members was at the evening's meeting. One of the pieces of information was updated earlier in the day. The Council members said they hadn't had a chance to look at it.

Mayor Frazier explained the recent documents with, "It's a last minute deal."

Mayor Frazier said he wasn't sure if this should even be in front of the Council.

Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier
Mayor Frazier with recently received info from the SRWMD.

He asked, "Do you have enough information to make a decision? Are you willing to make a decision that could affect somebody's job? "I'm not sayin' one side's wrong, one side's right. I don't know."

Councilman Richardson added, "From what I've heard here, we have about 50 local jobs that could be put at risk if the permits denied." "The other side says the springs will be put at risk."

The Mayor said, "I understand. It is a hard decision."

Councilman Bill Koon said, "We just got this tonight (SRWMD info). I'm not to the point where I'm ready to make a decision."

Councilman Richardson asked, "Do we need to table it until we have time to look at this new information?"

Councilman Koon, "I want to be fair on my vote. I'm not ready. We're just gettin' the information from them [Water Management District].


Mayor Frasier asked, "Is there a motion on the table?"

There wasn't.

Fort White Town Councilman James Richhardson
City Councilman James Richardson

Councilman Richardson followed up, "I wouldn't feel comfortable on asking anybody to vote on something they didn't have a chance to look at. I see that happening on a national level now."

Mayor Frazer asked, "Do you feel strongly enough to make a motion?"

Councilman Richardson responded, "I already did once before that we approve – basically sign off on off on the same thing that our County did."

Mayor Frazier asked, "Do you want to make that another motion?"

Councilman Richardson said, "I'm more educated now, but my opinion hasn't changed. I still think it's long term bad for springs."

Koberlein Law: what are they doing?

All of a sudden Koberlein Law's Brittany Loper injects herself into the proceedings.

Attorney Loper asks Councilman Richardson, "So you're making a motion?"

Was Ms. Loper paying attention? Just a moment before Mr. Richardson said, "I wouldn't feel comfortable on asking anybody to vote on something they didn't have a chance to look at."

None of the Councilmen had a chance to conscientiously review the SRWMD info, which among other things mentioned there were over 15,000 public comments concerning the Seven Springs permit.

Councilman Richardson answers, "Yes."

Mayor Frazier asked, "So do we have a second on the motion, accepting the resolution?"

Silence: the motion died for lack of a second.

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