Proposal on wells worries residents
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
KEYSTONE -- For the last decade, one of the Keystone Civic Association's most potent weapons against unwanted development has been the county's wellhead protection program.
Because it is rich in underground water sources and provides drinking water for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, Keystone figured prominently in the regulations. The rules restrict various activities near the wellheads -- septic tanks, for example -- that could threaten water quality.
Density and quality of life issues took center stage as the wellhead protections were taken for granted, said Laura Swain, the association's former vice president.
"We've been able to keep out certain developments because the restrictions are there," Swain said. "You don't hear about it because it's already there."
But that comfort zone is under attack.
A Hillborough County-led task force is proposing radical changes to the ordinance that neighborhood activists say would open up new areas to development.
The main effect of the new regulations would be the downsizing of well protection.
The current ordinance blankets most of Keystone, a wide area bordered by South Mobley Road and the Veterans Expressway to the south and east, and Pinellas and Pasco counties to the north and west.
Maps of the proposed protection areas leave out most of Keystone. Color-coded drawings show protective buffers around the Eldridge-Wilde wellfield in the uppermost northwest corner of Hillsborough, as well as a long chain of underground sources stretching along Gunn Highway from Fairy Lake off Race Track Road to Lake Elizabeth off Lutz-Lake Fern Road.
A meeting Tuesday night between residents and county representatives grew contentious as committee members tried to explain the proposed changes. The rewritten ordinance could be ready for a vote by the County Commission next spring.
According to the committee, new data gives a much clearer picture of where underground water sources exist and how the water flows. As a result, the ordinance can narrow its focus, engineer Steve Lienhart said.
That prompted residents to accuse the county of being willing to sacrifice their interests to those of Tampa Bay Water, which serves the region and controls the public wellheads. Most Keystone residents rely on private wells, which are protected by the current ordinance.
Residents worry approval of the new ordinance would expose their private wells to contamination and encourage unwanted development.
"What they're concerned about is their own wells, not the community's," Keystone resident Marvin Travis said.
Lienhart, the engineer, and others tried to downplay the effect the new rules would have, saying the proposed ordinance places restrictions on development. They include: above- and below-ground storage tanks, junkyards, heavy manufacturing, reuse of reclaimed water and new public or private horse stables.
But they also acknowledged the committee's mandate placed an emphasis on protecting Tampa Bay Water's resources in Keystone.
Project Director Dan Blood, with the county's Department of Planning and Growth Management, said he welcomed the input. He will present their comments to the advisory committee.
One idea is to maintain the minimum lot size that exists under the current wellfield ordinance.
"They certainly gave us some clear directions and options to think about," he said.
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