Coalition to Save Sand Hill Lakes
With Our Deepest Appreciation
We want to thank everyone who supported our efforts to stop a plan that called for pumping millions of gallons of water a day from the Sand Hill Lakes region. It was a 2 year battle with Bay County, and it ended last week, on Sept. 27, when the Northwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Boarded voted in our favor. About 20 supporters were at that meeting, with some having driven more than 2 hours to attend. Many took advantage of the public comment period to tell the Board, for hopefully the last time, about the grave concerns they have for their lakes and wetlands. And the Board listened, voting unanimously to deny Bay’s consumptive use permit request.
This victory was due in large part to the residents of Bay and Washington counties who lent their names and voices to the Coalition’s stand against Bay’s well field proposal.
We were truly a grassroots movement.
Thank you for your unwavering commitment to protect the fragile environment that is the Sand Hill Lakes!
The Coalition to Save Sand Hill Lakes
Water Management District Board
Rejects Bay’s Well Field Proposal
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: April Salter 850-508-7040 Sept. 28, 2012 Tallahassee—The Northwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board voted unanimously yesterday to accept an administrative law judge’s finding that “it is not in the public interest for Bay County to operate the well field” in the Sand Hill Lakes region.
The Board’s decision came after hearing from its legal counsel, opposing lawyers for Bay and Washington counties, and several supporters of the Save Sand Hill Lakes Coalition. About 20 concerned citizens attended the meeting in Havana, with several publicly urging the Board to reject Bay County’s consumptive-use permit request.
“We need to stop this [legal dispute] and consider what we’re doing with the taxpayers’ money,” said Board member Joyce Estes just before the panel voted.
The 2-year dispute over the well field stems from Bay County’s original proposal to draw up to 30 million gallons of water per day from an area located in northern Bay County on the Washington County line. The area is home to a fragile network of hundreds of karst lakes, some of which now look more like puddles after years of drought. Hundreds of residents in the Sand Hill Lakes region feared Bay’s proposed well field would further reduce water levels in lakes and the aquifer as well as in private residential wells.
“This would have been the most disastrous thing that could have happened to the Sand Hills,” Coalition member Bill Gunter said of the well field plan minutes after the board voted to accept the judge’s recommended order, issued in late July. Over the last few years, Gunter and his wife, Gail, have watched the water recede on Lake Lucas, where they live, 50 feet beyond their 86-foot dock. “Because of usage and drought we have lakes that are virtually dry,” he added.
Gunter was relieved that Bay also lost a legal maneuver asking the Board to return the case to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings for reconsideration. “I literally praise the Lord for the fact that our environment has been protected,” he said.
Doug Manson, lead counsel for Northern Trust, one of the petitioners in the lawsuit against Bay County, lauded the Board’s decision. “We thank the Governing Board for listening to us and to the citizens who came here today to voice their concerns about the Sand Hill Lakes area,” he said. “But,” he added, “we are ready to put this divisive issue behind us and foster better relations with Bay County. It is our hope to work with Bay County in the future.”
The Coalition to Save Sand Hill Lakes is made up of over 500 Bay and Washington County residents as well as environmental organizations such as the Bay County Audubon Society and Florida Audubon.
Click here to download the Board’s final order.
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Administrative Law Judge Rules Bay County Failed to Prove Need to Draw Millions of Gallons of Water a DayFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: April Salter 850-508-7040 July 26, 2012 Tallahassee–A state of Florida administrative law judge today recommended denial of Bay County’s request to pump up to 30 million gallons of water a day from a well field located in northern Bay County on the Washington County line. The ruling comes two years after a legal battle arose over the Northwest Florida Water Management District’s decision to grant Bay County a 20-year permit to operate a well field that would have drawn water needed to maintain hundreds of lakes and springs in the environmentally sensitive Sand Hill Lakes region. The Coalition to Save Sand Hill Lakes was formed to oppose the proposed well field and is made up of more than 500 landowners and environmental groups in and around Bay and Washington counties. The judge concluded that “it is not in the public interest for Bay County to operate the well field.” The judge found that Bay County’s data was “inadequate to determine that the area’s natural systems would not be significantly affected,” and that this “failure to show what the impacts will be to the natural systems of extraordinary ecological and environmental quality is weighty when balanced against a need that does not exist and many never arise.” Eric Draper, president of Florida Audubon and a member of the Coalition, said, “Bay County’s 30-million-gallons-a-day well field threatened one of the most environmentally important areas in Northwest Florida. The well field, if approved, would have harmed lakes in the pristine Sand Hill Lakes region. Audubon considers the Sand Hill Lakes region one of Florida’s ‘Special Places’ because its crystal clear water has been protected from development and it harbors diversity of wildlife.” Doug Manson, lead counsel for Northern Trust, one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, said, “This is a very happy day for the landowners in the Sand Hill Lakes region. We believe the judge’s findings of fact will put this issue to rest and that the citizens of the Sand Hill Lakes region can be assured that their already stressed lakes will not be further harmed by pumping from the proposed well field. We are pleased that the judge agreed with us that the county had not shown the need for the well field and recognized the potential for significant environmental harm.” Download Recommended Order
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