For more election coverage, check out our voter’s guide here.
Editor’s note: The Beacon erroneously said earlier that the Seat 2 race for the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District would be on the primary ballot. Both Conservation District races — for Seat 2 and Seat 4 — will be decided in the general election.
Four Volusia County residents are vying for seats on the relatively obscure Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District board. The races on the Nov. 3 ballot are for Seat 2 and Seat 4. The seats are unpaid volunteer positions.
The Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District — a board consisting of five elected members — has long been relegated to an advisory and educational role.
Once an influential and well-funded committee (first established by the U.S. Congress in 1935 in response to the Great Dust Bowl), the board has been unfunded since 2007, when Volusia County government ended its roughly $150,000-a-year contribution.
In theory, the board was established to oversee federal and state funding for conservation efforts, and to provide a liaison between farmers and local government. Now, what money the Conservation District has comes entirely through a once-a-year tree sale, and its major event is the annual Envirothon, a national academic competition that partners with local high schools.
The future of the board was thrown into the limelight, albeit briefly, in 2018 when local William Bliss ran for Seat 1 — and put a whopping $44,000 into his campaign account — with the goal of reinvigorating the board and its historical role.
The Seat 2 race, which The Beacon previously profiled, has narrowed to two candidates after incumbent KelleeJo Ferrari withdrew from the race. The two remaining candidates are Wesley Wayne Wilson Jr., a 30-year-old Edgewater resident (who previously ran for Seat 3 in 2016, and lost to incumbent Beth James), who believes the Conservation District board is beyond saving, and John Nelson of Port Orange, who sees the Conservation District board as an educational tool.
“There is a threat of having that board eventually funded,” Wilson said. “We shouldn’t give the county any opportunity or excuse to waste our taxes.”
Nelson said, “The Soil and Water Board, in particular, offers an opportunity to utilize my chemical engineering and environmental background, balanced with my fiscal eye, to educate our citizens and protect our resources.”
In the race for Seat 4, Barbara Deering faces Wendy Anderson for a position vacated by outgoing supervisor Peter Kouracos.
Unlike the race for Seat 2, the difference between the candidates in this race is not whether the board should exist, but rather, what is the best way to promote and expand the board.
Deering and Anderson have similar goals — connecting resources to expand the board’s environmental advocacy, and amplifying the board’s already successful annual educational programs. They would accomplish those goals, however, by different methods.
As Volusia County continues to expand, the name of the game for many environmental advocates is “smart growth,” and both candidates tout their connections in the community to promote the idea.
Anderson, a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, was integral to the planning and design of the eco-friendly Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center and the rejuvenation of Victoria Park’s Environmental Advisory Committee, she said.
“What I want to do on the Soil and Water board is do what I do best in my adult life, in all my roles — connecting people and establishing partnerships,” Anderson said. “Leveraging small pockets of resources that are widely distributed into bigger, focused, pools that have greater effect.”
Deering, a physical therapist with a background in biology and science, said through her 11 years in Volusia County she has connections in local government and local farmers that make her uniquely suited to serve on the Conservation District board.
“Knowing city government and county government and knowing farmers puts me at a unique advantage for marrying those two factions of our community,” Deering said. “We’re going to grow. We have a lot of new people moving in. This is something that we have to manage, in terms of growing community.”
Both candidates see education as something the board already does that could be expanded.
“The Envirothon is big — but we could do it better. Teachers are participating in science programs throughout the county — we should support them,” Anderson said. “Education is one of the missions of the board; I want to elevate that.”
Deering said, “Right now, it’s mostly an educational board. There are a couple of things they do really well. In the county, high schools win competitions with the Environthon. Last year, Spruce Creek won in this county and went on to win the state.”
“I think we can continue to support those educational needs, community educational outreach, getting local constituents excited about caring for the environment, and promoting natural vegetation and utilizing our natural environment,” Deering added.
“One of the things I hope to do on the Soil and Water Conservation District is really work with local high-school and middle-school teachers — and Daytona State, Bethune-Cookman, and obviously Stetson, which is where I work — to really help us grow those partnerships,” Anderson said. “We can be encouraging young people … to engage more with nature, in unstructured ways as well as formal educational ways, to get them involved in research from a young age, involved in conservation and protection. It sets them up for a lifetime of caring, and a lifetime of action.”
For more information on the candidates, visit:
Wendy Anderson — https://www.wendy4soilandwater.com/
Barbara Deering — https://www.facebook.com/Barbara-Deering-for-Soil-and-Water-Conservation-District-104290788095518
Although the races for seats on the Soil and Water Conservation District board are nonpartisan, it’s difficult not to note the difference in political support the candidates in the Seat 4 race have received.
These races rarely generate more than a few hundred dollars in campaign funding. (One notable exception was William Bliss in 2018, who pumped an astonishing $43,500 of his own money into the race.)
Both Seat 2 candidates — Nelson and Wilson — have $0 in monetary contributions listed on their campaign-finance reports
Anderson, on the other hand, has $3,124 in her war chest, and has spent $2,477 of that. Deering has $1,350, and has spent $267.
Anderson received contributions mainly from individuals, including from current Conservation District Board Member Bliss ($500), but also from political organizations, including the Volusia Democrats Black Caucus ($250) and the Democratic Women’s Club of FL ($150), records show.
Deering, the wife of Paul Deering, chairman of the Volusia County Republican Party, has individual contributors and one donation by a political group — $500 from the Economic Growth PAC, whose chairman is Republican David Santiago, outgoing District 27 representative in the Florida House.