Wakulla Springs property could soon be slated for environmental protection
Wakulla County Commissioners are no strangers to Southwest Georgia Oil Company. Both groups have been caught in the crossfire of some heated debates of late.
When commissions met in August to decide on zoning changes and a comprehensive plan request from the company, a citizen led protest erupted.
The company wanted to build a 16-pump gas station on part of the property. But environmentalists and concerned residents condemned the request, because the land is over part of Wakulla Springs, the largest underground cave system in the country and clean water advocates were worried about contamination.
During last month's meeting, Commission Chairman Ralph Thomas presented a solution.
“I cannot promise anything but there’s a very good likelihood that we believe the State of Florida through the Forever Florida fund will purchase this land,” said Thomas.
That directive was expanded during Tuesday's board meeting to allow any entity (public or private) to try to buy the land. Local officials say Southwest Oil has stated it will consider selling the land for preservation.
“That way if another organization wants to purchase it [the land owned by Southwest] instead of Florida Forever," explained Thomas. "As longs its intended for conservation, then we want to encourage that in the resolution as well.”
It’s an idea that even state lawmaker, Representative Jason Shoaf agrees with.
“It just seemed like a good match to protect that property," said Shoaf. "If we go that route, we're also protecting the property owners' rights. It's an arm's length transaction."
According to Shoaf and Thomas, Southwest has been in full cooperation with the state as well as the county but it’s not over yet.
While the company has halted its plans to build its gas station, some Wakulla residents like David Damon worry that without a stricter local spring protection ordinance, another oil company could come along and propose the same thing.
“I hope we move that along before you run into this brick wall again and we all find ourselves right back here fighting over gas stations," said Damon. "I think we need to keep moving forward on that.”
Wakulla’s current ordinance has not been updated since the 1990s, back when county commissioners passed the first Spring Protection Zone ordinance in the state.
Commissioners will hold their next meeting on September 18th.
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