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BEACON PHOTO/AL EVERSON MOVING THE EARTH — Volusia County is poised to set new standards for borrow pits, especially those dug close to wetlands or bodies of water. An ordinance on excavations, such as this one along Interstate 4 between DeLand and Daytona Beach, would require a 250-foot separation between the edge of the digging and any wetland, lake or river.

Concerned that borrow pits may cause environmental damage in areas near wetlands or where groundwater levels are high, the Volusia County Council Oct. 5 tentatively agreed on new rules for such digging.

The county’s current ordinance on borrow pits — sometimes referred to as sand mining or removing dirt for fill material elsewhere — calls for a minimum separation of 150 feet between the edge of the pit and a wetland or a water body. Some officials had proposed reducing the setback to 50 feet, but instead the County Council voted to increase the required separation to 250 feet, and to require additional safeguards against possible contamination of water sources.

The ordinance, if passed on second reading in December, would apply only in the unincorporated areas of the county. The pending law applies to so-called nonexempt excavations, meaning borrow pits created to provide dirt needed elsewhere and hauled away to firm up or raise building sites.

Exempt excavations are those such as human-made retention ponds created in connection with new development. Those water-holding basins are scrutinized as part of the technical review of the site plans for new residential, commercial or industrial projects.

Borrow pits may be allowed as a special exception, subject to the approval of the County Council. Before the council acts on the request, however, it must be considered by the county’s Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission.

Volusia County Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin noted that some localities in Florida have changed their minimum excavation-buffering distances, with requirements that vary from “150 feet to 300 to 500.”

The county’s Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission had split on the idea of changing the separation during a public hearing on the proposed borrow-pit ordinance in August. 

That advisory panel’s 3-3 vote resulted in no recommendation to the County Council on whether to enact or reject the buffering reduction.

The council subsequently voiced opposition to decreasing the buffer, after hearing concerns from speakers in attendance.

“The ordinance does not address groundwater quality,” John Baker, representing the Environmental Council of Volusia and Flagler Counties, said. “The borrow pit will be there for a long time.”

“This ordinance is not just about sand mining,” Suze Peace, vice president of the same organization, said. “I have questions about whether we should be changing the elevation of our land.”

The remarks resonated with County Council members.

“Even the 150 feet I have a problem with,” Council Member Heather Post said.

She went on to propose a 250-foot buffer.

If a developer or a property owner wishing to create a borrow pit wants to reduce the setback between the excavation and the wetland or water body, that applicant would be required to pay for a third-party analysis to ensure there will be no environmental repercussions.

“This should not be an additional cost for the county,” Ervin said.

The council agreed and included a requirement for the applicant to pay for that independent analysis to be provided by an environmental-engineering consultant hired by the county.

The County Council voted 6-1 for the stricter ordinance on borrow pits. Council Member Dr. Fred Lowry dissented. Lowry said he thinks the current restrictions, including the 150-foot separation, are sufficient.

Before the pending ordinance becomes the law of the land in Volusia County, the council must approve it on a second reading, set for Dec. 14.

“This is a two-hearing process,” Assistant County Attorney Paolo Soria told the council.

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