Editor, The Beacon:
On Oct. 5, the Volusia County Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed Ordinance No. 2021-17, which would dramatically reduce the existing 150-foot-minimum buffer in effect between a new borrow pit and any adjacent wetland. This reduction could have significant negative effects on surface and groundwater quality as well as on the viability of nearby wetlands, surface water bodies, fish and wetland-dependent wildlife.
Dr. Mark Brown, of the University of Florida Center for Wetlands, provided the Environmental Council of Volusia and Flagler Counties a study done in nearby St. Johns County, which provides information he determined pertinent to Volusia County, due to similar conditions.
Dr. Brown stated that he believes a buffer of 150 feet to 300 feet is necessary to protect both the wetland itself and its plants and wetland-dependent wildlife.
Indeed, the study found that, adjacent to a cypress wetland, a 300-foot buffer is necessary to protect 50 percent of the wetland-dependent wildlife (nearly 350 feet to protect 70 percent). A hydrologist associated with Dr. Brown warned that even a minor groundwater drawdown in a wetland can have significant negative consequences for the wetland.
Our investigation determined that water-quality reports for borrow pits are done once a year by the applicant/excavator. This is too infrequent. The lack of oversight provides an opportunity for an unscrupulous operator to continue, even if significant contamination becomes apparent.
The draft ordinance is better than originally proposed, but is still inadequate to protect our fragile ecosystem, which includes our EPA-designated sole-source aquifer (our drinking water).
Even with improvements, the PLDRC could not agree to recommend approval or denial at its Aug. 19 meeting, sending it to the County Council without a recommendation.
The proposed ordinance still does not address many crucial issues and must be voted down or substantially revised to address them.
John C. Baker
President, Environmental Council of Volusia & Flagler Counties