News Release: The Wakulla Wetlands Alliance
The Wakulla Wetlands Alliance (WWA) is calling on Wakulla County commissioners to follow state agency recommendations released between Dec. 12 and Dec. 16, to keep Wakulla County’s wetlands protection under local control by maintaining its wetland buffers, developing special-case exceptions, and creating incentives for property owners to protect wetlands voluntarily.
“The Wakulla Wetlands Alliance is pleased that the state recognizes that Wakulla County’s wetlands, rivers, and refuges are important state resources, and today we are asking commissioners to recognize this fact and leave the buffers as they are,” said Victor W. Lambou, WWA president.
The recommendations come from the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFMD), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC).
“To ensure continued protection of wetland and water resources of Wakulla County, it is recommended that the County consider retaining policy language that provides for wetland resource protection and buffer zones,” said Paul J. Thorpe, AICP, NWFWMD Resource Planning Section Director on Dec. 13. (see attachment)
Wakulla County commissioners voted on Nov. 18, to remove a 75-foot buffer zone of 35-foot and 40-foot bands around wetlands, and transmitted to state agencies its request to change the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Five state agencies have responded, including two – the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Department of Transportation – which had no comment. The buffers were adopted unanimously by Wakulla County commissioners in 2006, and re-adopted unanimously in 2010.
DEP said in its Dec. 12 letter, the state would suffer “adverse impacts to important state resources, if the County’s [Comprehensive Plan] amendment is adopted,” and urged the County to develop measures that would reflect the county’s concern for the potential “taking” of some property platted before the county’s1995 buffer requirements.
Repeatedly, DEP pointed out the uniqueness of Wakulla County’s wetlands, which cover approximately 60 percent of the county, and their importance to the state.
“Wetlands are important state resources that serve valuable functions,” the DEP letter said.
An email from Wakulla County’s director of Planning and Zoning, Luis Serna, on Monday warned commissioners that DEP might challenge the county, if commissioners failed to act on its recommendations.
“Staff is particularly concerned about FDEP’s comments and the potential that this agency may challenge the amendment,” Serna wrote on Dec. 16. Serna also suggested commissioners meet in a workshop with state agency representatives, a proposal WWA has supported.
Commissioner Howard Kessler, the only Wakulla County commissioner to oppose the removal of the buffers, warns that “a challenge by the county to the state’s recommendations would be costly to our taxpayers and predictably futile, if pursued, because the state has said our wetlands, rivers and wildlife preserves are a vital state resource, which would be adversely affected if our protections are removed.”
The FWCC, on Dec. 12, encouraged commissioners to use state programs that could “offer voluntary incentives for property owners who are interested in providing greater levels of wetland protection.” (see attachment)
For the past three months, WWA members have been collecting petitions from registered voters to put the wetlands protection on the 2014 ballot. To date, the response to the referendum drive has been overwhelmingly supportive and thousands of petitions have been collected.
But the petition drive will continue.
“While the state’s recommendations to the county are encouraging,” Lambou said, “the referendum drive will continue unless the commissioners agree to place the wetlands issue on the 2014 ballot.”
Wakulla County registered voters who want to sign petitions may download them at www.wakullawetlands.com, request them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the WWA at 713-0093. WWA’s mailing address is Wakulla Wetlands Alliance, P.O. Box 427, Crawfordville FL 32326.