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A Times Editorial

County did the right thing on well-drilling issue

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

Last week, the Hernando County Commission voted to deny Florida Water Services' request to drill new wells in the south-central part of the county. In doing so, the commissioners cited several reasons, including concerns about where to place the storage tank.

But the commissioners also worried if the wells, which would pump almost 1-million gallons of water per day, might lower the water table and cause existing wells to dry up. In addition, commissioners were troubled by the possibility that sinkholes might develop, and also that saltwater may be seeping into the freshwater supply at that site, which is 3 miles east of U.S. 19 and about 800 feet north of County Line Road.

The attorney for Florida Water Services, Joe Mason, protested the commission's decision. He maintains it is the sole purview of the Southwest Florida Water Management District to decide if new wells might threaten the existing water supply, and threatened to appeal the commission's decision.

Mason may be right, and if he is confident, let him take his case to court.

In the meantime, Hernando County residents, especially those in the affected area, should applaud the commission for exercising common sense to safeguard their interests.

The water management district, commonly known as Swiftmud, has an assailable record for allowing overpumping in this region. For proof, witness the draw-downs in Pasco County that resulted in parched lake beds and dry wells long before the first year of the so-called four-year drought we are experiencing. To suggest that this agency is omnipotent in determining where commercial wells should be placed is as risky as it is absurd.

Elected local officials have a responsibility to consider all the information available to them when making public policy decisions. Although it is necessary, and sometimes preferable, to rely on the information provided by other government agencies, that does not absolve local officials from asserting their authority. When the issue affects the safety, health or welfare of constituents, that duty is paramount.

The commission made the correct decision. Residents should be pleased their elected representatives were not swayed by the complacency of Swiftmud, or the harangue of a lawyer being paid to protect his client, not the public.

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