News / Events

Water concerns hang over huge development plan

BY DINAH VOYLES PULVER, ENVIRONMENT WRITER

October 15, 2009

EDGEWATER -- Water -- and its constant state of flux -- often tops discussions about long-term plans for the 59,000 acres Miami Corp. owns in Volusia and Brevard counties.

Opponents fear development could increase flooding troubles and put more strain on the area's supply of fresh groundwater, which regional water managers say is dwindling.

Competition for water concerned members of the New Smyrna Beach City Commission during a presentation about the company's plans Tuesday night. They wanted to be sure Titusville and Brevard County couldn't come looking for water in Volusia.

Today, as the Volusia County Council considers the property's future, water again may play a key role.

The council will vote on proposed land use changes to allow for eventual development during the next 50 years. Miami Corp., a Chicago-based family land trust, has owned the 92-square-mile Farmton timber farm between Edgewater, Osteen and Mims for more than 80 years.

The proposal was unanimously approved by the Brevard County Commission in September.

In exchange for rights to build 29,500 homes in the two counties, company officials dangle two enticements: permanent conservation of 40,623 acres and water. The company began spreading word to officials in both counties this summer that a consultant discovered a new "vein" of groundwater under the land.

That raised eyebrows but also proved an attention-getter in a region under pressure from the St. Johns River Water Management District to spend millions, if not billions, to develop new sources of water.

The company recently began a water partnership with the city of Titusville and expressed interest in looking into a similar agreement with Volusia County for water pumping and possibly storage.

To Maryanne Connors, a deputy county manager embroiled in water issues for years, the prospect of additional water, even for the short term, sounds pretty good.
"We are very interested," Connors said.

The company's consultants, Devo Engineering, recently discussed the findings with the county and water management district officials.

"We were impressed with the level of additional data they had collected in an area that has some uncertain aquifer characteristics, and expressed an interest in reviewing their analysis in detail," said Hal Wilkening, director of resource management for the district. However, the district wants to take a closer look and has asked for more in-depth information on the consultants' computer modeling.

Connors said some water experts long suspected more water could be found under the company's land.

A separate independent consultant said this week it isn't unusual to find additional sources of water in the ground layers where Florida's water is stored.

"Not every square mile of Florida has been explored with monitoring wells," said Tom Missimer, of Missimer Groundwater Science. And, he said, developers spend more money up front than water districts looking for water.

"Over the years in South Florida we've actually found some new systems that haven't been explored," he said. "Everybody is skeptical when they hear it the first time."

Missimer said the real issue will be what the district's subsequent studies reveal and whether the agency allows the water to be used.

Still, some environmental advocates question the long-term impacts of pumping any additional water and worry about the related impacts from population growth.

Local Sierra Club members lobbied hard against the project this week.
"They are trying to give away the heart of the county," said treasurer Elizabeth Camarotta.

Others, including Florida Audubon, are expected to lend support to the project today.

Officials for Miami Corp. and Volusia are discussing a joint venture allowing the county to pump from Farmton to help stretch the water supply it provides to its West Volusia customers. Connors said water could be available until sometime after 2025, when Farmton begins development.

Such an arrangement could dramatically extend the timeframe district officials gave the county to come up with alternative water supplies.

The district suggested the county consider building a reservoir at Farmton, Connors said. But county officials thought it might be too expensive and create too much damage to natural areas.

The county also has looked at capturing and using stormwater that flows across Farmton, as well as across a 5,000-acre tract to the northwest of Farmton owned by another family corporation, the Lefflers.

Both options gave the county a little leeway in negotiating an agreement to settle a lawsuit it filed against the water district earlier this summer. That agreement also is on the agenda today.

The district included the county, city of DeLand and the Utilities Commission of New Smyrna Beach in a list of possible partners on a project to tap the Ocklawaha River for water. All three government agencies filed a petition with a state administrative court, asking to be removed from the list.

In the settlement being considered today, Connors said the county agrees to look for alternatives that would accomplish the same thing.

The council is scheduled to consider this item at 2:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 123 W. Indiana Ave., DeLand. Listen to the meeting live online at volusia.org

Types of habitat; total acres; acres to be conserved; acres to be developed

Types of Habitat
Total Acres
Acres to be Conserved
Acres to be Developed
Crane & Spruce Creek swamps
13,759.64
13,523.54
236.1
Buck Lake & surrounding marsh
1,159.60
1,159.60
0
Cow Creek & Deep Creek systems
1,672.99
1,615.40
57.59
Large sloughs
6,726.39
5,243.80
1,482.59
Salt marsh
22.44
22.44
0
Scrub uplands
845.66
304.9
540.76
Oak & hardwood hammocks
1,033.65
920.08
113.57
Smaller wetlands
3,013.68
1,273.64
1,740.04
Natural pine flatwoods
1,192.03
869.2
322.83
Planted pines, lowlands
4,235.60
2,876.60
1,359
Planted pines, uplands
24,393.19
12,159.40
12,233.79
Wetlands that have been logged
1,030.13
654.64
375.49
Total
59,085
40,623.24
18,461.76

SOURCE: Miami Corp.

Q. How much land does Miami Corp. own here?
  A. 59,000 acres: 47,000 in Volusia County and 12,000 in Brevard County.
Q. What's out there now?
  A. Hunting leases and timber harvesting. No one lives on the land. A series of dirt roads crisscross the property.
Q. What's proposed?
  A. Permanent conservation of 40,623 acres and a series of developments with 29,500 homes, including 19,832 single-family homes and 4,265 apartments in Volusia County. The plan also calls for roughly 4 million square feet of retail, office and industrial space, including a hospital and eight schools. The plan ties job creation to home construction.
Q. How many homes could be built on the company's land in Volusia County under existing rules?
  A. 2,287, or 4,692 if clustered.
Q. How much land would have been conserved under a wetland restoration bank approved for the property?
  A. 24,000 acres. Of that, 7,000 is in an active bank and must be permanently conserved.
Q. How much total water use is proposed?
  A. 6.7 million gallons per day, about 7 percent of the total water used in Volusia County in 2007.
Q. How much of the Volusia land is within the 100-year floodplain?
  A. About 73 percent, 34,200 acres.
Q. Where would the first development take place?
  A. The only development proposed before 2025 would be a commercial and residential area called the Gateway, off Possum Camp Road in Edgewater. The road would become an extension of Williamson Boulevard and State Road 442. The plan calls for 4,692 homes and 820,217 square feet of nonresidential building space in the Gateway, but under existing school district rules, no more than 2,287 homes could be built on the land without a special agreement.
Q. After holding on to the land for 80 years, why did company officials act now?
  A. The corporation hopes to seal development rights before the Hometown Democracy amendment to the state constitution goes before voters in November 2010. The amendment would require such land use changes to be approved by voters, a move aimed at slowing rampant growth and widely expected to make development more difficult.

 


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